REP. CHARLES BLAKE: Seeking to increase voter registration, he ran into opposition.
A small but telling piece of legislative debate occurred this morning on Rep. Charles Blake's
bill to provide automatic voter registration for people signing up for new driver licenses, if they wish to be registered.
Blake is a Democrat. Rep. Jeff Wardlaw,
a former Democrat, objected that Blake hadn't cited where the estimated cost — $42,000 — would come from to reprogram existing software to immediately transfer data to the secretary of state, rather than requiring people to fill out a paper form. This is a laughably small expenditure in a $6 billion state budget. There's rarely an agency with far more than that in unspent money (unless they hurry to spend it up before the fiscal year ends.) Blake calmly noted to Wardlaw that the requirement for a revenue impact report wasn't required for the Republican Voter ID bill, which will make it harder for people to vote and will create a new ID card procedure for county clerks.
The Republican secretary of state's office also objected to the "unfunded mandate." This same office is angling to take over the state Election Commission and establish a new investigative agency in the office that will cost a good deal more than $42,000. The secretary of state also objected that some people who might not really want to register would get registered and this would be a burden on county clerks. Indeed, they might register. And with that registration in hand they might vote someday.
Credit Republican Rep. Charlotte Douglas
for pushing back on the secretary of state's office cost estimate and that office's insistence that county clerks objected to having more voters on the rolls. "I think that would be a good problem," Douglas said. She said the office couldn't know that people who signed up this way wouldn't vote.
Rep. Bob Ballinger
, chair of the committee, discouraged approval of the bill today. He said a debate needed to be held about whether it was a good thing to register a lot more people who wouldn't vote. (Though nobody has an idea about who will or won't vote.) He encouraged Blake to work with the secretary of state's office to say if existing procedures could be improved to achieve what Blake hopes to achieve — more accurate voter rolls and more voters.
Blake agreed to postpone a vote.
From my seat, it looked like another illustration of a familiar fact of Arkansas political life: Republicans favor bills making it harder to vote. They disfavor bills making it easier to vote.