State legislators generally do a good job of considering the issues, and I’m not one who bashes them. But we’ve reached the point in the session when I am looking forward to them going home. Otherwise, they might pass more bills like House Bill 1712.
The bill, among other provisions, makes it illegal for any voter to photograph their marked ballot. It should be known as the “Your ballot isn’t really your ballot; it’s ours” bill.
Supporters, and there apparently are a lot of them, because it passed the House 83-2 March 22, say it’s necessary to prevent voters from taking a picture to prove they voted the right way so someone can pay them off.
That might be understandable if it were actually happening much. Since there is no proof of that, it’s hard to see why we need a new law. The activity that should be limited in this case is the one that’s actually harmful and already illegal – voter fraud. What shouldn’t be limited is taking pictures, which doesn’t hurt anybody.
The guiding principle should be, don’t pass a law, particularly one limiting freedom and meant to control personal behavior, unless it’s necessary. Why shouldn’t the government let 18-year-olds photograph their first presidential vote and email it to their parents or share it with their friends on Facebook?
I guess there is an argument for House Bill 1712. However, there certainly are arguments against it. No bill that restricts Arkansans’ freedoms should pass 83-2 (with 15 deciding not to vote at all). For the record, those voting no were Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway).
It’s doubtful that 83 representatives truly thought this is a problem worth addressing with yet another law. They’re busy, they have 2,500 bills to consider, and once something passes committee, they assume it’s been well studied and are inclined to vote yes. They’ve been here two months and are ready to go home, so they are covering a lot of ground in a hurry. As they demonstrated by passing a bill requiring voters to show a photo I.D. at the ballot box, they’re in the mood to combat voter fraud. Besides, all things being equal, they don’t really like voting against a bill proposed by their fellow representative. That representative might then vote against their bill. When House Bill 1712 came up for a vote, they voted yes and moved on. Now it’s in the Senate.
Let’s not overstate this: This is not some Orwellian nightmare, and those who voted for it are not Big Brother. Few of us have even considered photographing our ballots, anyway.
However, if it were to pass, it would be an unnecessary restriction on our freedom – the kind that happen all too often.
If House Bill 1712 becomes law because most legislators believe it is the right thing to do even though I disagree, well, that happens all the time. There is a consequence of living in a democracy: Unless I’m the dictator, I don’t always get my way.
But if it passes because legislators are getting in a hurry and because not a lot of them really thought about the issue, that would be worse.
It would mean it passed not because of bad intentions but because of inattention.
Which is how freedoms often get limited.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.