by Max Brantley
Governor Beebe vetoed Senate Bill 2 Monday afternoon. While research conducted by the Attorney General's Office could not determine the legal future of the bill if it becomes law, Beebe still has concerns with respect to Article 3 of the Arkansas Constitution. The governor also believes that the bill will unnecessarily cost taxpayers money, grow bureaucracy and risk disenfranchisement of voters. His veto letter concludes:
Senate Bill 2 is, then, an expensive solution in search of a problem. The Bureau of Legislative Research estimates that Senate Bill 2 will cost approximately $300,000 in tax dollars to implement; and that estimate does not take into account the ongoing costs that the taxpayers will continue to bear 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. I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens.
Gov. Beebe had until about 4 p.m. to decide whether to sign, veto or otherwise allow the voter ID legislation to become law. It passed by the narrowest margin in the House, 51 votes. Republicans insist it's about preventing vote fraud, but they've demonstrated no evidence of impersonation fraud that would be addressed by the bill. Studies around the country have demonstrated, however, that such legislation depresses voting among the elderly and minorities who don't have driver licenses. Under the Arkansas law, a voter without ID could vote, but the vote wouldn't count unless the voter went back to county offices with proof of ID. This creates barriers for people without driver licenses and, frequently, without transportation or easy means to get to county courthouses. Republicans nationwide developed Voter ID bills because they believed they would depress vote among the elderly, young and minorities, groups that trend Democratic.
The Republicans will move to override and need only simple majorities in each House. The count will be easy to get in the Senate. In the House, one Democrat, Walls McCrary, joined 50 Republicans in approving the legislation, though there was some confusion as to whether McCrary's vote was recorded properly, and Republican House Speaker Davy Carter didn't vote. With a solid Republican bloc, including Carter, the veto can be overridden with 51 votes. Potential gubernatorial or attorney general candidate Carter will be off to a great start with the impacted voting blocs if he joins the veto override.
The Republican Party, naturally, was critical of the veto. (It is accurate, if only barely — one senator and one representative — to call approval of the bill "bipartisan.")
Beebe had said he wanted to wait for an opinion from the attorney general on the law.
Generally, McDaniel said the bill as written would seem likely to withstand challenge based on rulings in other states. But he said a peculiarity of the Arkansas constitution leaves it potentially open to challenge in a case of "first impression."
State Rep. Jim Nickels had asked whether the proposed SB 2 violated the state Constitutional prohibition against imposing additional voter qualifications. From McDaniel's opinion:
The first question is whether a required voter ID is an additional qualification.
Most courts faced with the question have held that rather than imposing an additional qualification, voter ID laws merely provide a permissible procedural condition on the right to vote. Those courts, however, are often influenced by specific language in those state constitutions that require the legislature to enact laws that regulate elections, police the elections process for fraud or otherwise 'protect the purity of the ballot box.' Because our constitution lacks any such language, an Arkansas court might be persuaded to side with those few courts that consider voter ID to be an impermissible additional qualification. Because this is a case of first impression in Arkansas, I cannot predict with certainty how an Arkansas court would rule on this question.
The second level of inquiry — whether SB 2 impairs the right to vote under Art. 3, 2 — is more straightforward. As explained briefly below, I believe an Arkansas court faced with this question would likely follow the majority of courts and apply the federal standard for assessing allegations of infringements or impairments on the right to vote. Further, given certain provisions in SB 2 that seem crafted with other states' litigation in mind, I believe an Arkansas court would, after applying the federal standard, reach the conclusion that most authorities have reached and uphold SB 2..."