Plans for public education on voter ID law lacking, critics say


LITTLE ROCK — As the secretary of state’s office prepares to implement the state’s new voter ID requirement, some are criticizing the office for having no announced plan for educating Arkansans about the new law.

The secretary of state’s office recently unveiled proposed rules for implementing Act 595 of this year — rules that do not include a public education plan. The lack of a plan is troubling, according to Susan Inman of Little Rock, a longtime election official who has announced plans to run as a Democrat for Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin’s seat in 2014.

“The act calls for the secretary of state to promulgate these rules, or a set of rules as far as what the county clerk’s office does, but in my mind I felt like the secretary of state’s office also should have in place some procedure for informing the people,” she said.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin, no relation to Mark Martin, said Act 595 constitutes “a huge change” in the law that merits a large-scale public outreach.

“They need to come up with a plan. That’s what the taxpayers paid them to do,” she said.

Under Act 595, a voter can only cast a ballot if he or she shows official identification bearing a photograph — a driver’s license, state identification card, concealed-carry handgun license, military ID, a U.S. passport, employee badge or identification document, public assistance identification card or college student identification card. A voter without photo ID could cast a provisional ballot.

The law also requires the secretary of state’s office to provide county clerks’ offices with equipment to make photo ID cards at no charge for people who request them. The law is to take effect Jan. 1 or when funding for the equipment becomes available, whichever happens later.

Alex Reed, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said Friday the funding — $300,000 — has been found in the office’s budget and will not require a separate appropriation. The office will begin asking for price quotes on the machinery this week, he said.

Reed said education efforts are not included in the rules because the rules are just about the procedures for implementing the law.

“As soon as the rules are finalized, then we’ll begin a very aggressive outreach and public education program to all the voters to make it as simple as possible and make sure everyone is informed,” he said.

The education program will not require any funding outside the office’s regular budget, Reed said, noting that the office regularly educates the public about changes in election laws.

“We’ll do whatever we can with the existing money that we have. That could be anything from speaking at local groups — you know, your Kiwanises, your Rotaries — social media, using YouTube, and whatever resources we have available,” he said.

Mark Martin also has endorsed a voter education effort on the law that the state Republican Party has said it plans to launch. The state Democratic Party has criticized him for getting involved with an effort by a partisan group.

“We’re happy (with) anybody that wants to do an outreach to voters. It’s not just a partisan issue,” Reed said.

Inman said the appropriate body to educate voters about the new law is the secretary of state’s office, and the effort should be significant.

“Other states have budgeted millions of dollars. How are you going to reach 75 counties and everybody in each county (otherwise)?” she said.

Candace Martin said Missouri spent $2.2 million and Minnesota spend $2.7 million to educate voters on their voter ID laws.

“The general public needs to be reached,” she said. “Something has changed with the way we vote, and if we don’t tell them, they will be confused on election day. And when you confuse the voters, voters become a little bit more cautious about participating.”

The GOP-backed legislation that became Act 595 passed in party-line votes in both chambers of the Legislature — the only Democrat to vote for it, state Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, said his vote was an accident — and was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, though Republican lawmakers overrode the veto.

Republicans won majorities in the House and Senate last year for the first time since the end of the Civil War.

Opponents say the law could disenfranchise voters who are least likely to have a photo ID, including the elderly, the poor and minorities. Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said Friday the ACLU is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the law but said she did not know when it would be filed.

Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored the measure, said the secretary of state’s regular budget should be “fine” to cover public education on the act. He said the complaints about voter outreach are premature, overblown and politically motivated.

King said most Arkansans already show voter ID at the polls — poll workers currently are supposed to ask for ID but not require it — and anyone who is confused after the law takes effect can still cast a provisional ballot without a photo ID.

“It seems (Democrats) oppose any change that wants to help the integrity of elections. They just want to keep the status quo,” he said.

The proposed rules for implementing the law can be viewed on the secretary of state’s website. The secretary of state’s office will accept written comments on the rules until 4:30 p.m. on July 1.