LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' top elections panel on Wednesday approved guidelines for how poll workers should enforce the state's new voter ID law when it takes effect next year, after it removed a proposal that one member warned could lead to political favoritism.
The state Board of Election Commissioners unanimously approved the rules, which closely mirror those outlined in the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in April despite Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto.
Before approving the new guidelines, the panel voted to remove a provision that would have allowed poll supervisors to settle disputes when voters don't resemble their ID photos.
Board member Stu Soffer, who called for the provision's removal, said the voter ID law didn't give them the authority to include that step in the rules. He said the voter could cast a provisional ballot even if their identity is challenged, and the final decision could be made by the county election commission.
"My concern is it's an opportunity for partisan politics," Soffer, a Republican, said. "It's an opportunity for those of the same political party to make exceptions, 'oh yeah, that's Joe.' I would rather we follow what's in the law. If there's a dispute, let's get the light of day on it."
Tim Humphries, the board's legal counsel, said leaving the decision up to poll supervisors was proposed because they may know a voter better because they live near them.
"Another poll worker there is that person's neighbor, mother, best friend, and knows that is indeed that person," Humphries said. "That is the situation we're trying to address and we wanted to make sure it got addressed the same way in Jefferson County as it did in Clark County."
The rules say poll workers should consider "hair color, glasses, facial hair, cosmetics, weight, age, injury and other physical characteristics" when determining whether voters resemble their ID photos.
While Arkansas poll workers already must ask for identification by law, voters don't have to show it to cast a ballot. Under the new law, voters who don't show photo ID can cast provisional ballots. Those ballots only would be counted if, by noon of the Monday following an election, voters produce an ID for county elections officials or sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.
The panel also removed a proposal that would have required the secretary of state's office to include details about the voter ID law in its absentee ballot application form after an attorney for the office questioned whether the board could issue such a requirement. The board instead voted to work with the secretary of state's office on a letter that would notify absentee voters of the changes.
The guidelines must be reviewed by a legislative panel, which has signed off on the secretary of state's office's rules for how the state must go about issuing photo identification cards to voters who don't have another acceptable form of ID.
The secretary of state's office on Tuesday signed a $114,447 contract with a Little Rock company to purchase 98 machines to make the IDs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas plans to challenge the voter ID law in state court later this year, said the group's legal director, Holly Dickson. The ACLU contends that law would disenfranchise senior citizens, minorities and the poor.
"Nothing in the proposed rules from the secretary of state or the state board of election commissioners is going to change the nature of the beast," she said.
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