View from the Senate
LITTLE ROCK – When Arkansas voters go to the polls for the primary elections on May 22, or if they vote early beginning May 7, they will have to present a government-issued photo ID in order to get a regular ballot.
The photo ID is required under Act 633 of 2017, which passed in the Senate last year by a vote of 25-to-8, with two senators not voting.
An Arkansas registered voter challenged the constitutionality of Act 633 in a lawsuit. The initial ruling by a circuit judge was that it was unconstitutional.
However, state election officials appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which overturned the circuit judge’s injunction. That means the photo ID requirements will be in effect for May’s primary elections.
In the coming months, a couple of developments will affect whether Arkansas has a permanent photo ID requirement for voters.
First of all, the Supreme Court stay only applies to voting in the May primaries. The Supreme Court did not decide on the constitutionality of Act 633, it simply overturned the lower court judge.
Before the November general election, the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the constitutionality of Act 633.
Another factor could establish photo ID requirements as Arkansas law, regardless of the litigation prompted by Act 633. In November, Arkansas residents will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that requires voters to present a photo ID.
The measure was placed on the ballot by the legislature and is known as Issue Two.
If voters approve Issue Two, it would put the photo ID requirement in the state Constitution and supersede any rulings that arise from the lawsuits challenging Act 633.
Act 633 is the legislature’s second attempt to require a photo ID. In 2013 lawmakers enacted a similar voter ID law, but it too was challenged in court and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Supporters then focused on writing the ID requirement into the Constitution, through an amendment approved by voters in a statewide election.
The legislature may refer three proposed constitutional amendments to voters, and the photo ID requirement was one of two referred during the 2017 regular session. The other, Issue One, is a tort reform measure.
Department of Transportation Revenue
Last week I reported erroneous revenue figures for the Department of Transportation. The $308 million total should be for the fiscal year-to-date up to and including March, and not just for the month of March.
The revenue is mostly from motor fuels taxes, and also includes registration fees on trucks and heavy vehicles, permit fees and penalties and revenue from a severance tax on natural gas.
Relying so much on traditional revenue from motor fuels taxes, paid at the gas pump by drivers on a per gallon basis, presents a financial challenge to highway officials. That’s because motor vehicles every year are manufactured with greater fuel efficiency. Four-door sedans that used to get 15 miles per gallon routinely get 30 miles to the gallon.
Since 1970 the Department has reduced its staff from about 4,200 employees to about 3,600 employees, bringing down its administrative costs per mile to the third lowest in the country.