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Arkansas Senate removes affidavit option from voter ID law

February 24, 2021 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation making the state’s voter ID law stricter by no longer allowing people without identification to cast a ballot if they sign a statement affirming their identity.

The majority-Republican Senate approved the measure by a 25-9 vote, sending it to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. The majority-Republican House approved the measure earlier this month. Hutchinson said he’ll review the the measure and make a decision on it next week.

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Under the state’s current law, a voter who doesn’t present photo identification but signs a statement can cast a provisional ballot that will be counted unless the county election commission finds it invalid. If enacted, the law will still allow someone without ID to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they present an ID to the county clerk or election board by noon the Monday following the election.

Supporters of the change said it was needed because of the lack of a standard for matching the signature on the affidavit to the voter’s registration.

“There’s nothing you can do unless you have professional forensic investigators to compare two different signatures,” Republican Sen. Mark Johnson told colleagues before the vote.

Republican lawmakers across the country are seeking tighter voting restrictions, months after the highest turnout in a presidential election in 50 years. The Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute, has already tallied more than 100 bills in 28 states meant to restrict voting access.

Nearly 2,700 voters in Arkansas without ID used the affidavit option in last year’s election and had their vote counted, according to numbers compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which opposed the legislation.

“We should be encouraging, making it easier for people to vote, not making it more difficult under the guise that there is a tremendous fraud that is being perpetuated by our elections,” said Sen. Keith Ingram, the top Democrat in the Senate.

The measure passed on a mostly party-line vote, with Republican Sen. Breanne Davis and independent Sen. Jim Hendren joining the Senate’s seven Democrats in opposing the bill.