True legacy of voter ID law remains unwritten
By Steve Boggs
The new voter identification law in Arkansas will be fully implemented by the next major election cycle. As is the case with any piece of legislation, it may or may not live up to its intended purpose. The devil is in the details, and we got our first look at some of those details last week.
The Republican-controlled Arkansas General Assembly passed, and subsequently overrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of, SB 2 this past spring that makes showing a government=issued photo identification card mandatory in order to vote. Arkansas is one of several states to pass such a measure. It is intended to be a safeguard against voter fraud.
Last week, the Board of Election Commissions adopted a set of rules on how to implement the new legislation after extensive discussions. It was reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s famous “we have to pass it to see what’s in it” line. Now that it’s law, where do we go from here?
There is legitimate concern that larger segments of the elderly, low-income and minority voting public do not have driver’s licenses, or any other sort of government-issued photo ID. In today’s society, it is increasingly difficult to function without a photo ID, but some feel these segments could be denied access to the voting process next year. The state said it would purchase 98 voter ID machines, and distribute them throughout the state. That way, anyone who needed a photo ID could get one at no cost.
As the voter ID law moves from the drawing board to the precinct, we will get a chance to “see what’s in it.” For instance:
Will precinct workers turn away voters they’ve known for 20 or 30 years just because they don’t present a photo ID card? Will there be fisticuffs at the ballot box? Under current law, voters do not have to show anything to get their ballot. If their names are on the rolls, they sign in and go vote. Local precinct workers aren’t likely going keep their next door neighbor from voting just because he forgot his wallet, are they?
How will people know how to get one of these new voter ID cards? Will the law be implemented without a public education campaign? Arkansas has roughly 1.5 million registered voters. If, say, 10 percent of those don’t have a photo ID, that means up to 150,000 registered voters need to get one over the next 14 months (and counting). When can they start? Where do they go? What do they need to bring as verification? (Hopefully a photo ID is not required!)
Can people who already have a driver’s license also obtain a new voter ID card? In today’s world of identity theft, proof of self is becoming a higher hurdle to jump each and every day. Two government-issued photo IDs would be nice to have, especially if it’s free.
How will this new law affect voter turnout, and will anyone be tracking voter turnout based on demographics? Voter turnout in Arkansas was 34 percent in the 2008 election. It was 40 percent in Saline County. Aside from those who forget the driver’s license or voter ID card on their way to vote, how many will just throw up their hands and call it “too much hassle”?
Isn’t it time to revisit voter registration procedures? For years government has tried to increase the number of registered voters in this country, including making the process easier than ever. Is it too easy now? How difficult will it be for registered voters to get the new ID card? For that matter, since it is a government-issued ID, it becomes a legitimate asset for some. If the leap from being registered to having the new photo ID card is easy, then the registration process needs a second look.
What happens (or doesn’t) from this point on will determine the true legacy of the state’s new voter ID law. It will either become an additional safeguard against voter fraud, or a legal means to suppress voter turnout.
Steve Boggs is pubisher of The Saline Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.