Voter ID proposal heads to Arkansas ballot

Voter ID proposal heads to Arkansas ballot
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Arkansas voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to require identification at polling places after legislators advanced a proposal on a mostly party-line vote.

The state Senate approved the measure Tuesday, following the state House, which backed the bill last month. Voters must approve the measure when it appears on the 2018 ballot to amend the state constitution.

Arkansas already requires poll workers to ask voters to show identification when they go to the polls, but voters do not actually have to comply. The amendment would require voters to show identification, though the legislature would still have to determine what types of identification would be deemed acceptable.

The Arkansas law would also impact voters who cast ballots by mail: Those voters would be required to include a photocopy of their identification when they send in their absentee ballots.

If voters approve the measure, those without identification would still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. That ballot would only be counted if voters show proof of identification after Election Day, though the legislature did not specify how or when that requirement would be satisfied.

Voting rights groups oppose photo identification requirements, especially in Southern states, where elderly and minority voters are disproportionately likely to lack the required state-issued identifications. The Arkansas law would require the state to provide identification free of charge to those who do not have acceptable documents.

The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a similar law passed in 2013 over the veto of then-Gov. Mike Beebe (D). A constitutional amendment, which does not require the signature of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), would sidestep the state Supreme Court.

Arkansas would become the eighth state in the nation to embrace a so-called strict photo identification law that requires voters to show identification before they get a ballot. Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas already have such laws on the books.

Another two states, Arizona and Ohio, allow voters to show non-photographic identification. Twenty-four other states, including Arkansas, already ask voters to show an ID.

The proposed constitutional amendment is the second the Arkansas legislature has referred to the 2018 ballot. The other proposed amendment would limit damages in civil lawsuits, a change backed by business and healthcare groups.