by Max Brantley
In a May 5, 2014 letter to Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin and county clerks across Arkansas, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) expressed grave concerns over how the haphazard way in which state and county officials have implemented the new voter photo identification law will make it much more difficult for Black people and thousands of others to vote.
LDF — on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, the W. Harold Flowers Law Society, and the Christian Ministerial Alliance of Central Arkansas — strongly urges Arkansas to make the county offices that provide voters with free photo IDs and with the opportunity to complete the provisional ballot process more available and accessible to voters.
As a part of an investigation spanning several months, LDF contacted the county clerks’ offices in ten Arkansas counties and was surprised to learn that four of these offices were providing voters with insufficient or demonstrably incorrect information about the voter ID law. The investigation also found that the 268,000 registered voters, 80,000 of whom are Black, living in these counties face considerable financial, material, and logistical difficulties that make it nearly impossible for many of them to reach the offices of the county clerks. For example:
The Secretary of State has failed to require the county clerks’ offices to be available on a uniform statewide basis, resulting in unequal access to necessary photo ID-related services.
County clerks' offices are closed on weekday evenings after 4:30 p.m. and on weekends, and are often inaccessible by public transportation.
Voters who lack photo IDs and drivers’ licenses, and who reside in more rural parts of the State are at times forced to travel as much as 60 miles round-trip in places without public transportation to reach the nearest county clerk’s office.
In fact, even in counties with public transportation systems, a voter still may need to travel almost an hour and a half round-trip by bus just to reach the closest county clerk’s office.