FAYETTEVILLE -- The state tosses absentee ballots that omit required identification under Arkansas' new voter ID law. And the affected voter may never know. A Benton County voter receives a letter informing him of the problem, county officials said. A Washington County voter in the same situation does not.
The uneven treatment of flawed absentee ballots is a clear example of gaps in the law that must be fixed by the general election, opponents said. Supporters counter such problems are minor and can be addressed in the next legislative session.
At A Glance
Voter Registration Deadline
Oct. 6 is the deadline to apply to register to vote in the Nov. 4 general election. You can register to vote if you will be 18 by Nov. 4.
You may register by mail. Forms are available at the websites of the Arkansas Secretary of State and the Arkansas League of Women Voters, among others. If you register by mail, your form must be postmarked by the deadline.
You may also register in person at your county clerk’s office or at another state office such as a state revenue office or a public library.
Source: Staff Report
A suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas seeks to overturn the law, claiming it discourages voting by legitimate electors of the state. Voter ID supporters contend requiring a photo ID is a simple way to prevent fraud at the polls.
The state Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on the case Thursday.
In Benton County, 29 absentee ballots cast in primaries and elections so far this year didn't include the right identification under the law, the county clerk's office confirmed. Those voters were notified by letter from the Benton County Election Commission of the lack of ID, but only after those elections were over, a spokeswoman for the county clerk's office said. That will give those voters a chance to send the proper identification in with their general election ballots in November if they vote absentee again.
Ten voters in Washington County who didn't include proper ID in their absentee ballots received no such notice after the fact. All absentee voters did receive notice of changes to the law with their absentee ballots.
"The county clerk included detailed instructions on a big, yellow piece of paper with every absentee ballot sent out, telling people what ID they needed to send," said Jennifer Price, election coordinator of the county's election commission. "She really did a good job of telling them what they needed to do."
The 10 disqualified ballots were among the 214 absentee ballots cast so far in Washington County in the May primaries and runoff, nonpartisan judicial elections, school elections and a special election in Elkins, records show. Two of the 10 would have been disqualified for other reasons, such as failure to sign other documents, Price said.
"Anybody who went to the trouble to send in an absentee ballot should be able to fairly assume that the vote counted, but that's not the case," said Holly Dickson, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. "There is no provision in the law that requires the county to tell someone his vote didn't count. Some counties tell voters when there's a problem. Some don't. There's no consistency."
A total of 933 Arkansas absentee ballots haven't been counted so far this year because they lacked proper identification, according to Dickson's group. The lack of a state standard for notifying voters is one area cited by the ACLU and other plaintiffs suing the state.
The state's constitution guarantees the right to vote to any citizen of the United States who is also a citizen of Arkansas, more than 18 years of age and is not disqualified because of a felony conviction. The state constitution also bars the Legislature from adding other qualifications, the plaintiffs argue. Supporters of the law reply the state has the right to take steps against fraud.
Plaintiffs argue the law's requirement for photo identification has an undue impact on the poor, who often don't have driver's licenses and other common types of photo ID.
If the courts threw out every law that had a problem in it that could be fixed, there would be very few laws on the books, said Sen. Bart Hester, R-Bentonville. Hester supported the ID law, Act 595 of 2013. Concerns about a lack of notice over a ballot not being counted can be addressed by lawmakers, he said.
"Every Legislature enacts laws with intended consequences and has to address unintended consequences," Hester said. "I would support looking at this unintended consequence and send them (voters) the right information. That's fair and would protect the institution.
"The overwhelming majority of voters agree with and support the law, and those who need a photo ID can get one for free from the county," he said. "The whole purpose is to protect the integrity of the voting process."
Under the law, voters going to the polls must present photo identification. If they have no such identification, they may obtain one from the county clerk, but must first provide two pieces of identification. One must contain a full legal name and date of birth; the other showing a residential address. Examples of the first type include a birth certificate, marriage license application or a pay stub with the imprinted name of the employer. Examples of the second include a utility or cable bill issued within the last 60 days, a bank statement issued in the same time period, or a personal property tax bill for the current or preceding calendar year.
Absentee voters must provide either an original or copy of one of the following: a valid photo identification, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or another government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Uniformed members of the armed services or of the U.S. Merchant Marine are exempt when they are out of the country, as are their spouses and dependents when they are also overseas. Residents of long-term or residential-care facilities are also exempt but must provide a letter or other document from the facility's administrator that the voter is a resident of the facility.
The number of disqualified absentee ballots is easy to count, said Maria Baez de Hicks of Fayetteville, longtime opponent of the voter identification laws. The are not accurate figures for how many voters have been discouraged from voting by the added requirements, she said.
"We've had low turnout elections so far, so there's not a lot of enthusiasm to begin with," Hicks said. "Now add to that people who are not wanting to deal with the hassle."
"I really think the courts need to figure this out before the election," Hicks said. "Nobody knows what's going on."NW News on 09/29/2014