Early voting begins; photo ID required at polls


LITTLE ROCK — Early voting began Monday for Arkansas’ May 20 primary and nonpartisan election, the first statewide election in which a new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls will be in effect — even though a circuit judge has declared it unconstitutional.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox has ruled in two separate cases that Act 595 of 2013 is unconstitutional because it imposes qualifications for voting in Arkansas that go beyond the qualifications set forth in the state constitution. Both rulings have been stayed pending appeals to the state Supreme Court, so the law is currently in force.

The law allows a voter who does not show photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. The voter then has until noon on the Monday after the election to present photo ID to the county election commission or the county clerk so the ballot can be counted.

By 4:15 p.m. Monday, 5,273 Arkansans had cast ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office. No count of provisional ballots cast was immediately available.

At the Pulaski County Regional Building in Little Rock on Monday, poll workers said that by mid-afternoon, they had assisted a little over 100 voters, all of whom had provided photo ID.

Voters entering the building walked past signs reminding them to show a photo ID issued by the state or U.S. government or an accredited Arkansas college or university. Clerks were equipped with printed lists of accredited schools.

By the time voters reached the clerks, typically, “they’ve already got the driver’s licenses out, ready to go,” clerk Nancy Sadler said.

Lott Rolfe of Maumelle voted Monday after showing a clerk his driver’s license. He said later, “It was convenient for me because I have a driver’s license. I don’t know what the situation is for a lot of other individuals who may not have any type of form of ID.”

Opponents of Act 595 say it will disenfranchise the poor, elderly and disabled, who are less likely than other voters to have photo IDs. Supporters say the law will prevent voter fraud.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the legislation last year, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.

“I told them it was unconstitutional when they did it,” Beebe told reporters Monday. “And they did it anyway. It’s like a lot of other things. And it costs the state money. When these people continue to do stuff that they know, or should know if they’re going to be elected to office, that something is unconstitutional, they ought to pay attention to that because it ends up costing the taxpayers money.”

Last week, a state judge in Pennsylvania and a federal judge in Wisconsin said those state’s voter ID laws were unconstitutional. The state attorney general’s office has argued, however, that “a large majority of appellate courts to consider identical issues have upheld voter ID laws.”