LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed legislation Monday to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, even though a state attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of the measure was inconclusive.
Beebe said he had reservations about whether Senate Bill 2 met constitutional muster, but characterized the measure as “an expensive solution in search of a problem.”
Supporters contend the legislation is necessary to discourage voter fraud. Opponents maintain voter fraud at the polls does not exist in Arkansas, that the measure could disenfranchise some voters — comparing the legislation to the Jim Crow era poll tax — and that it would violate Amendment 51 by adding qualifications to register to vote.
Beebe raised concerns about a possible violation of Article 3 of the state constitution by imposing additional requirements to vote.
Legislative researchers estimate the bill would cost the state about $300,000 to implement a requirement that equipment be set up in county clerk offices around the state to produce voter ID cards. Beebe said the estimate did not take into account any ongoing cost to taxpayers in future years.
“At a time when some argue for the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy and for reduced government spending, I find it ironic to be presented with a bill that increases government bureaucracy and increases government expenditures, all to address a need that has not been demonstrated,” Beebe wrote. “I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens.”
The bill by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed both the House and Senate, and only a simple majority in both Republican-controlled chambers is necessary to override the Democratic governor’s veto — something that already has been accomplished twice this legislative session.
Will Bond, the state Democratic Party chairman, issued a statement thanking Beebe for “protecting the basic, fundamental right to vote for all Arkansans.”
The House majority leader said House Republicans were prepared to override the veto to “guarantee the security of the ballot process.”
“We hoped the governor would have avoided forcing his fellow House Democrats to choose politics over the people of Arkansas who support this commonsense legislation,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.
Notice of the gubernatorial veto came soon after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued an opinion requested after the passage of SB 2.
McDaniel said an Arkansas court likely would not consider legislation requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls an impairment to voting, but he said he could not predict whether a judge would consider the legislation as imposition of a substantive additional qualification to vote or merely an added procedure and regulatory means to prove one is qualified to vote.
Under current law, poll workers have to ask for identification but voters who don’t have ID can still cast a ballot that could be subject to challenge. Under SB 2 a voter with a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot that would be counted if he or she came back with a photo ID. The photo ID requirement in SB 2 would exempt residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said Monday he expected the bill to be brought up for a veto override “pretty quick.” He said the Senate would vote first and then the House, possibly on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Carter declined to speculate on whether an override would pass in the House, saying he had not yet read McDaniel’s opinion.
Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said he had not been able to speak to King so he did not know when the bill might be in the Senate for an override vote. He said he had not read Beebe’s letter explaining the veto decision and could not say how a vote would go.
King could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. No one answered his home telephone and calls to his cell phone could not be completed because of a local telephone service outage.