by: Jillian Fisher[i]
Free and fair elections are the cornerstone for America’s democracy. In the last several election cycles there has been a prominent shift resulting in the introduction of legislation that places limitations on citizens’ most fundamental right. Restrictions implemented across the nation include shortening or eliminating early voting, repealing same day election registration and limiting registration drives, eliminating polling places, and perhaps the most taxing, requiring government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Currently there are over 30 states that require some form of proof of identification to be shown before a ballot is cast.[ii] The core problems with the voter ID laws are that they often place unnecessary obstacles on the voter without addressing any real problems; they disenfranchise legitimate voters, burden those with the least resources, and violate protections in national and state constitutions. These laws vary state-to-state and legal challenges have ensued across the country. One of the strictest was Arkansas’s Voter ID Law, Act 595 of 2013 that was declared unconstitutional weeks before the November 2014 election. In response to the decision, some legislators in Arkansas have vowed to push for ID requirements again.[iii]
The Voter ID Law in Arkansas was a reincarnation of similar bills that were not passed in prior legislative sessions. In 2013, the Republican controlled General Assembly passed the bill, which was vetoed by the Governor and then overrode the veto.[iv] The law, enacted January 1, 2014, required voters to show specific kinds of identification in order for their vote to count. Voters at the polls were required to present an Arkansas state or U.S. government issued photo ID with the voter’s full name. Absentee voters were required to send with each ballot a copy of a photo ID or other current document that showed the voter’s name and residential address, such as a utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck. Arkansas was one of only three states that required a strict proof of identity when casting an absentee ballot and the law had very few exemptions.[v]
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and Arkansas Public Law Center filed a lawsuit in April 2014 on behalf of four Arkansas voters challenging the constitutionality of the Voter ID Law and asking that it be enjoined. Violation of the Arkansas Constitution was the basis for their legal challenge of the Voter ID Law and two theories were asserted: (i) that it added a qualification to voting and (ii) that it impaired the right to vote. A hearing on the motion for injunctive relief was held May 2. The court ruled that the law was facially unconstitutional as it added a qualification to voting over and above those qualifications set forth in the Arkansas Constitution. The case was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. On October 15, 2014 the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously declared the Voter ID Law unconstitutional for adding an unconstitutional qualification for voting.[vi]
The Arkansas Constitution specifically outlines the necessary qualifications for voting, yet under the Voter ID Law, voters who met all the qualifications were still disenfranchised because they did not possess necessary ID. The Arkansas Constitution, unlike many other states, specifically prohibits the state legislature (or any power, civil or military) from burdening the right to participate in free and equal elections.[vii] With the Arkansas Supreme Court decision, the Voter ID Law was struck down and election officials were advised to follow the procedures prior to the enactment of the Voter ID Law, which require poll workers to ask for ID but allows voters to still cast a regular ballot if they do not have or choose not to show ID.[viii]
Secretary of State Mark Martin, an avid supporter of the Voter ID Law as well as one of the defendants in the case, stated that he was exploring all options with lawmakers about addressing the ruling, including legislative remedies and proposing a constitutional amendment requiring Voter ID for the 2016 elections.[ix] Despite studies that show voter ID laws are harmful, nationwide they are largely popular among the public. Surveys show that 70% of voters support some form of voter ID requirements.[x] This support stems from beliefs that Americans need an ID to participate in most activities and voting should not be the exception, that there are people voting who are not supposed to be voting, and that obtaining an ID is not difficult. Voters must already identify themselves and have their identities verified when they vote, though not always via photo ID and the other beliefs are also easily countered by facts described below.
When the Arkansas Voter ID Law was passed, the stated purpose was that it is needed to protect the integrity of elections and prevent election fraud.[xiii] However, national studies show that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent across the nation, and in Arkansas, not a single instance has been cited.[xiv] Arkansas requires verifications of voters’ identities before they are ever allowed to register.[xv] Several existing laws and checks on election process are in place in Arkansas that provide criminal penalties for voter impersonation and falsifying information.[xvi] Nationally, an investigation found a total of 10 cases of voter impersonation in the country since the year 2000. With 146 million registered voters in U.S., that is one out of fifteen million prospective voters.[xvii] In context, someone is 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning in the U.S. this year than for a single case of voter impersonation to occur in a nationwide election.[xviii] In his veto message, Governor Beebe highlighted the fact that there has been no credible study of election fraud or voter impersonation in Arkansas that would support the law.[xix] The handful of cited instances of fraud were not in-person voter fraud or impersonation but illegalities committed by candidates, election officials, or absentee ballot bearers, none of which were addressed by the Voter ID Law. Therefore, the need for this law is not only unwarranted but also irrational as it does nothing to prevent or address the types of election fraud that have occurred in Arkansas.
Voter ID laws burden those with the least amount of resources. In Arkansas, only a handful of elections took place during the ten month implementation, but well over a thousand voters were disenfranchised due to the law.[xx] It is estimated that 11% of voting age American citizens do not have current government-issued photo ID and in particular communities or populations, such as low-income, racial and ethnic-minorities, women, people with disabilities, and seniors, this percentage is even higher.[xxi] Government issued IDs are costly and the process of obtaining an ID is confusing and cumbersome. These particular groups are largely affected due to their lack of access, both financially and systematically, to photo ID. Some voters fall into a catch-22: in order to obtain an Arkansas ID they need to show documents that verify their full legal name such as a birth certificate, but obtaining a certified copy of a birth certificate requires a government issued photo ID.[xxii] Further, the Department of Finance and Administration, which issues state ID cards and driver’s licenses, has restricted availability as they are closed on weekends, have limited hours, limited locations and are often inaccessible by public transit even in cities that have public transit available. Arkansas only spends $1.38 per capita on public transportation and voters who reside in rural areas may be forced to travel over an hour roundtrip to obtain an ID.[xxiii]
During the passing of the Voter ID Law, the Arkansas General Assembly did not budget or appropriate any funds for education and outreach nor did the legislation require voter notification of the new ID requirements.[xxiv] Legislative reasoning for not appropriating money for education was that the law would have been criticized for expenditures on advertising and public education.[xxv] In his veto, Governor Beebe stated the law was going to burden 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, to all address a need that has not been demonstrated.”[xxvi] Voter education and outreach strategies used in other states include video advertisements and public service announcements, radio and other broadcast media, direct mailings to voters, print advertisements, and internet-based information. The following is a list of states and proposed budgets for educating voters about the changes in one fiscal year: Indiana $600,000 (spent 1.6 million from 2005-2009), Minnesota $2.7 million, and Missouri $3.9 million in 2012 and $5.1 million in 2013.[xxvii]
Taking steps to protect voters and the integrity of our elections should be a priority for legislators across the nation. Appropriate and well considered regulations that promote free, fair, and equal elections are essential. However, the Voter ID Law and other restrictive legislation are not fulfilling this need. These laws are unnecessary as they do not address any real problem; they disenfranchise legitimate voters, and burden those with the least resources. Voting is a fundamental right that protects all other rights and the government should encourage people to vote, not create larger barriers, muddling a process about which many people are already apathetic.
[i] Jillian Fisher was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Washburn University in 2010. She graduated from the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2013 where she received a Master’s in Public Service. Her work and studies have focused on research, advocacy, and public policy on various social justice and human rights issues. Fisher assisted the ACLU of Arkansas in its challenge and defeat of Arkansas’s Voter ID Law by implementing effective advocacy, outreach, and education efforts.
[ii] NCSL. 2014. “Voter Identification Requirements” (accessed Oct. 31, 2014).
[iii] DeMillo, Andrew. 2014. “AG: Ruling ‘clear’ no voter ID for election” Associated Press. October 16 (accessed Oct. 16, 2014).
[vi] Martin v. Kohls, 2014 Ark. 427 (2014).
[viii] DeMillo, Andrew. 2014. “AG: Ruling ‘clear’ no voter ID for election” Associated Press. October 16 (accessed Oct. 16, 2014).
(accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xi] Spaulding, Josh. 2012 “True or False: You need a Photo ID to…” Fair Elections Legal Network (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xiii] Moritz, Rob, and John Lyon. 2013. “Update Voter ID Bill Passes Senate.” Arkansas News Bureau, February 20 (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xiv] Levitt, Justin. 2007. “The Truth about Voter Fraud” Brennan Center (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xvi] Ark. Code Ann. §§7-1-103 and 104; 42 USC § 1971i (c) and (e); Ark. Code Ann. §7-5-305.
[xviii] National Geographic. 2005. “Flash Facts About Lightning” National Geographic News, June 24 (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xix] DeMillo, Andrew. 2013. “Arkansas Governor Vetoes Voter Photo ID Bill.” Associated Press. April 9. (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xx] ACLU of Arkansas. 2014. “Numbers of Voters Disenfranchised by County” (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xxii] DMV. 2014 “Identification Cards in Arkansas.”(accessed Sept. 24, 2014): Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). 2011. “Birth Records.” (accessed Sept. 24, 2014).
[xxiii] Legal Defense Fund (LDF), letter to Arkansas Secretary of State, May 5, 2014 (accessed Oct. 31, 2011).
[xxvi] DeMillo, Andrew. 2013. “Arkansas Governor Vetoes Voter Photo ID Bill.” Associated Press. April 9 (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
[xxvii] The Iowa State Association of County Auditors (ISACA). 2011. “A Report on Photo ID for Voting Purposes” February 2; H0210-4A, Sess. of 2011 (Minn. 2011); HJR 64, Sess. of 2010 (MO 2010) (accessed Oct. 31, 2014).