Ark. panel accepting comments on voter ID rules

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' law requiring voters to show photo identification faced questions Wednesday about who would resolve disputes when people don't look like their ID photos, as the state's top election panel began finalizing rules for its enforcement.

The state Board of Election Commissioners voted to begin accepting public comments on the new law, which is set to take effect next year. The panel is expected to hold a public hearing on the rules and give final approval to them on Aug. 21.

The rules closely mirror the law the Republican-controlled Legislature approved in April when it override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of the voter ID legislation. They're aimed at giving poll workers guidance on how to enforce the new requirements when they take effect next year.

For example, the rules say poll workers should consider "hair color, glasses, facial hair, cosmetics, weight, age, injury and other physical characteristics" when determining whether voters look like their ID photos. The rules say the supervisor at a polling site can resolve disputes regarding the voter's identity.

A member of the state panel said he believed that decision should be up to county election commissions rather than the supervisor at the polling site.

"Let the election commissions do their job and make the call," said Stu Soffer, a member of the state elections board.

Tim Humphries, legal counsel for the board, said having a poll supervisor on site make the call would help since they may be neighbors with the voter in question.

"Some other poll worker there may know that person," Humphries said.

While Arkansas poll workers must ask for identification under current law, voters don't have to show it to cast a ballot. Under the new law, voters who don't show photo identification can cast provisional ballots. Those ballots would be counted only if voters provide ID to county election officials or, before noon on the Monday following an election, sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.

Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said the disagreement over who verifies a voter's identity demonstrates the problems with the new law. Dickson said the ACLU plans to file suit challenging the law in state court before it takes effect.

"There is such a myriad of red tape built into this law and the proposed rules there's no doubt that legitimate Arkansas voters are going to get caught up in it and denied the right to vote," Dickson said.

The secretary of state's office has also drafted rules for the identification cards the state will be required to issue for voters who don't have ID. The law won't take effect until there's funding for the cards or Jan. 1, whichever is later. A spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin's office said there's funding available for the cards and it will be able to begin enforcing the law Jan. 1.