Your ballot probably will list five statewide issues, but votes will be counted on only three of them. I’m voting against all three, and I could be wrong on all three.
We’re down to three after the Arkansas Supreme Court last week pulled from the ballot Issue 1, which would have limited lawsuit awards and attorney’s fees, and Issue 3, which would have tightened the state’s legislative term limits.
That leaves Issue 2, an amendment requiring voters to present a photo ID at the ballot box; Issue 4, an amendment issuing four casino licenses; and Issue 5, an initiated act increasing the minimum wage.
Let’s start with Issue 2. It would require voters to present a photo ID when voting in person and enclose a copy of an ID when voting absentee. The state would have to provide free photo IDs to those who don’t have them.
Why am I voting no? Arkansas already has a photo ID law, passed in 2017, that does the same thing and which the Supreme Court recently ruled is constitutional. Therefore, there’s no need for a constitutional amendment. The Constitution should describe the government’s broad framework based on society’s values, and it should be amended only when necessary. A photo ID is a detail. Moreover, in-person voter impersonation is rare, while requiring an ID creates a barrier to voting for the poor, the aged and the disabled. Some nursing home patients may not be able to make it to the courthouse to get their free ID.
But that could be the wrong vote. Voter impersonation can happen, which could affect some elections. Local races can be decided by a few votes — or one, as happened this year in a Wynne school board election. Presenting a photo ID is a common occurrence in modern American life, and it’s a small price to pay to improve election security. A constitutional amendment is necessary because a different Supreme Court invalidated an earlier photo ID law, and a future Supreme Court might invalidate this one.
Issue 4 would require the state to issue four casino licenses: one to Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs; one to Southland Racing Corporation in West Memphis; and one in Pope (Russellville) and Jefferson (Pine Bluff) Counties.
I’m voting no because I don’t like giving any specific private business — in this case Oaklawn and Southland — a spot in the Constitution. Why not Walmart, or Steve Brawner Communications? Also, for many casino-goers, gambling is something to do with their extra money, but for others, that money’s not extra. Gambling leads to addictions that hurt families and ruin lives. The amendment acknowledges that reality by requiring the Department of Human Services to create compulsive gambling disorder educational programs.
But that could be the wrong vote. Who am I to tell people what they can’t do with their own money? People go to casinos whether I like it or not — and already do, across the border where other states benefit from the jobs and revenue. Besides, Oaklawn and Southland already have casinos with “electronic games of skill.” This amendment would let them use real cards.
Finally, Issue 5 would be an initiated act, not a constitutional amendment, that would increase the state hourly minimum wage from its current $8.50 to $9.25 next year, $10 in 2020, and $11 in 2021.
I’m voting no because that inflexible $11 could be a problem for some businesses, particularly when the economy falls into a recession. Yes, some corporate CEOs are making millions while paying some of their employees a pittance. However, some struggling small business owners pay their employees before they pay themselves — if they pay themselves at all. If the minimum wage rises too far too fast, some employers might reduce their workforce. That would hurt the very people the wage increase is meant to help.
But that could be the wrong vote. A person earning the $8.50 minimum wage in a full-time job with no vacations earns $17,680 a year. How are you supposed to pay the bills on that? We shouldn’t tell people to get off government assistance on the one hand, and then demonstrate that we don’t value work on the other.
I’m firm on 2 and 4 and more conflicted on 5. I would have voted no on 1 and 3 also.
But there are good arguments for voting yes, too. At least, thanks to the Supreme Court, there’s no chance I’ll be wrong on all five.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.