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ACT 595 Under Fire; Lawsuit to Ensue

BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –

LITTLE ROCK – Absentee voters would get a grace period in which they can present election officials with a copy of their photo ID, under a new rule approved by the state Board of Election Commissioners.

However, the procedure by which the rule was issued is under legal challenge. The Board voted on the rule to clarify provisions of Act 595 of 2013, which requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to get a ballot.

The act sets out procedures that election officials are to follow when a person arrives at a voting place and cannot present a photo ID.  The person is allowed to cast a provisional ballot and has until noon the following Monday to show a valid ID to the county clerk or to the local board of election commissioners.

Absentee voters are required to submit a copy of their photo IDs with their ballots. However, the act is unclear about how to proceed when they fail to do so.

The rule approved by the state Board of Election Commissioners grants to absentee voters the same grace period that is provided to in-person voters who lack valid identification.  They would have until noon the following Monday to show ID to the county clerk or local board of election commissioners.

The issue has been complicated by litigation and politics. The Pulaski County Election Commission has filed a lawsuit challenging the state Board’s authority to write rules that are not clearly spelled out in Act 595.

The judge in the case has scheduled hearings, not only to hear the merits of the lawsuit but also to set out a schedule.  Parties in the case are seeking quick action so there will be no legal questions arising from the May 20 primaries.

Another complicating factor is the state attorney general’s role.  After special elections in January the attorney general was asked for an advisory opinion on what to do about absentee ballots with no accompanying photo ID.

The opinion stated that Act 595 did not specifically allow additional time for absentee voters to present a photo ID, as it specifically does for in-person voters. Under the wording of Act 595 absentee voters would be treated differently than in-person voters, the opinion says.

In spite of the fact that the attorney general’s opinion apparently goes against the state Board’s policy on absentee ballots, the attorney general is representing the state Board in the lawsuit filed by the Pulaski County Election Commission because the attorney general represents state agencies when they are sued.

The state Republican Party has asked that a lawyer from outside the attorney general’s office be appointed to defend the state Board, in light of the fact that the attorney general is now in the position of defending in court a policy that he publicly questioned in an advisory opinion.

The attorney general, a Democrat, maintains that his office can adequately represent the state Board in the lawsuit because the advisory opinion previously issued was a specific response to a specific question – what Act 595 says about absentee voters –  while the lawsuit is about a different issue, that is, the state Board’s authority to issue new rules.

Acceptable IDs include drivers’ licenses, passports, concealed carry permits, student IDs from accredited colleges and military identification cards. If you don’t have one of those forms of ID, you can get a valid photo ID for free at the county clerk’s office.

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