LITTLE ROCK — The House on Monday completed a legislative override of Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of legislation to require voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls.
The vote was 52-45 to override the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 2, which previously passed both chambers of the Legislature over the objections of opponents who said the measure was unnecessary and could disenfranchise poor and elderly voters.
The Senate voted last week to override Beebe’s veto. Then, as was the case Monday, the override vote fell along party lines with Republicans voting for the override and Democrats voting against it. Rep. Fred Love of Little Rock was the only House Democrat recorded as voting for the override Monday, though Love tweeted from the House floor that the vote “was a mistake.”
Love also asked House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, for his vote to be expunged. Carter told Love to discuss his issue with the parliamentarian after the House adjourned. The vote was not changed.
Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, moved for the override. He told House members that a majority of Americans support voter ID and called it a “commonsense solution” to voter fraud.
“I’ve heard it said that this is a solution in search of a problem. Well that would be like saying I shouldn’t leave my car unlocked out in the parking lot because I’ve never had my car broken into,” Meeks said.
Beebe had called the bill “a expensive solution in search of a problem” when he vetoed it last month. He had also questioned whether it would pass constitutional muster.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, told House colleagues Monday there is no substantive evidence of voter fraud that would be affected by the bill. He said the debate over voter ID goes back to the civil rights movement, which led to the lifting of voting restrictions that targeted blacks.
“I dare say that you’ll (not) find any of your colleagues in this body of my color who will support this. It doesn’t matter what their leanings are,” Walker said. “What you’re doing , in effect, is saying, ‘We don’t care about what you think. We’re going to do this anyway.’”
Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said later the organization plans to sue the state over the new law.
“It’s just another in a very long line of attempts by this Legislature to undermine Democracy.” she said. “This will disenfranchise minorities, people with disabilities, the elderly, women, the poor, and limit their access to the ballot box. It is as much as a poll tax, and you could line it up with the bills to make it harder for people to get initiated acts on the ballot and the bills to limit access to a jury trial.”
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said in a statement, “We are proud that both the Arkansas House and Senate have now overridden this veto. Recent surveys reveal that nearly 80 percent of Americans back this commonsense measure to ensure that our elections are fair and safe, and Arkansans will be well served by this new electoral safeguard.”
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin said on Twitter that the state Republican Party had “hurt one of our most sacred rights by making it harder to vote in this state.”
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said that the governor “did what he thought was right and laid out very clearly his reasons. The Legislature, though, has the final say.”
Under current law, poll workers have to ask for identification but voters who don’t have ID can still cast a ballot that could be subject to challenge.
Under SB 2, a voter without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot that would be counted only if he or she came back to the county clerk or county board of election commissioners with a photo ID or an affidavit stating the voter cannot provide proof of identify because the voter is indigent or has a religious objection to being photographed. Also, such a voter must not have been challenged or required to cast a provisional ballot for any other reason.
The photo ID requirement in SB 2 exempts residents of nursing homes and residential care facilities, but they will have to produce a statement of residency from the facility’s administrator to cast a ballot.
Also under SB 2, someone voting by absentee ballot must submit with the ballot a copy of a current and valid photo identification, or a copy of proof of residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document showing the voter’s name and address.
Active duty military personnel deployed oversees, a member of the merchant marines, or the spouse or dependent of either is exempt from the provision.
The legislation is to become effective the later of Jan. 1, 2014, or when the secretary of state’s office has the funding to provide to county clerks statewide the equipment and training to produce photo ID cards.
Legislative researchers estimate the cost of implementing the program at $300,000.