Absentee voters will 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 Arkansas 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 a 2013 act 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 will have 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. 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.

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 the act. The judge has scheduled a hearing, 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.

Acceptable IDs include drivers’ licenses, passports, concealed carry permits, student IDs from accredited colleges and military identification cards. If you do not have one of those forms of ID, you can get a valid photo ID for free at the county clerk’s office. So the primary elections are May 20. Make sure you get and bring an ID.

Another complicating factor is the state attorney general’s role. The attorney general was asked for an advisory opinion on what to do about absentee ballots with no accompanying photo ID. His 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 the act, absentee voters would be treated differently than in person voters, the opinion says.

Even though his opinion apparently goes against the state board’s policy on absentee ballots, the attorney general is representing the state board in the lawsuit because he 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 board, in light of the fact that the attorney general is now in the position of defending in court a policy that he publicly questions.

If you would like to contact me please email me at bruce.holland@senate.state.ar or call the office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.