Local elections first test for revived Arkansas voter ID law

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' revived law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot will be put to the test — and come under heightened scrutiny by opponents who fear the new measure could lead to disenfranchisement— when it takes effect this week.

Voters heading to the polls early in three cities and two counties Tuesday for special elections on sales tax measures will be required to show photo ID before casting a ballot, or sign a sworn statement confirming their identity under the law approved by the Legislature earlier this year. The measure revives a similar voter ID restriction that was struck down by the state's highest court three years ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully challenged Arkansas' previous voter ID law, said it'll be watching carefully to see how the latest restriction is enforced during early voting and on the Aug. 8 election day to prepare for another potential lawsuit if voters are being disenfranchised.

"If voters are harmed under this law, then we're going to be evaluating whether and when we should file suit," Holly Dickson, legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas, said last week.

Thirty-four states have laws requiring or requesting voters show some form of voter ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arkansas enacted a similar voter ID law in 2013, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court the following year. The new law, approved in March, is aimed at addressing the argument by some justices that the 2013 law didn't receive enough votes in the Legislature to be enacted. Lawmakers also placed a constitutional amendment requiring voter ID on the 2018 ballot.

Like the previous Arkansas voter ID law, the new measure requires election officials to provide photo identification to voters free of charge if they don't have any other photo ID. The secretary of state's office has been deploying the equipment across the state and has also sent additional materials for voting locations to post about the new law, spokesman Chris Powell said.

Officials in the counties say they don't expect confusion from voters about the new law. State law before Tuesday required poll workers to ask for photo ID, but didn't require voters to show one to cast a ballot. The biggest change from the 2013 law is the provision allowing voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot if they sign a sworn statement.

In Pulaski County, the majority of poll workers on hand for a North Little Rock sales tax measure had also been around the last time the state's voter ID law was in effect, Election Coordinator Bryan Poe said. Poe said the county will also use some of the previous signs that had been posted during the 2013 law's enforcement.

"Other than the time crunch, I feel we're doing about as good job as we can get to everyone on the same page," Poe said.

Some officials said they were glad their first test of the voter ID law will be for special elections, which typically draw lower turnout.

"It'll get everybody prepared for when you have a big one," said Election Coordinator Sherry McCuan in Woodruff County, which is taking up a sales tax measure to raise funds for a new jail.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ademillo


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