The Arkansas Senate voted Wednesday to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of legislation that would require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.
The Republican-led Senate voted 21-12, along party lines, to override the veto. There was no debate beforehand.
The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bryan King, said he expects the GOP-controlled House to vote to override the veto on Thursday. Each chamber needs only a simple majority to override a veto in Arkansas.
Beebe vetoed the bill Monday, saying it amounts to "an expensive solution in search of a problem" and would unnecessarily infringe on voters' rights. Critics say in-person voter fraud is extremely rare and that voter ID laws, which Republicans have pushed for in many states, are really meant to disenfranchise groups that tend to favor Democrats.
King dismissed Beebe's concerns after Wednesday's vote.
"It's unfortunate that his attitude is just a continuation of the attitude by Democrats in Arkansas that voter fraud isn't happening and they won't do anything about it," King, R-Green Forest, told reporters.
The bill would require the state to provide free photo IDs to voters who don't have one at an estimated cost of $300,000. It wouldn't take effect until there is funding for the IDs or until January 2014, whichever occurs last.
Arkansas currently requires poll workers to ask for identification, but voters can still cast ballots if they don't have one. Among the forms of ID poll workers can ask for are non-photo options, including government checks and utility bills. If a voter doesn't show identification, poll workers indicate so on the precinct's voter registration list and the county election board can send the information to prosecutors after the election to investigate possible voter fraud.
Under the new legislation, voters unable to present a photo ID at polling stations would be allowed to cast provisional ballots. Voters would then have until noon on the following Monday to provide ID to county elections officials or sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed. Otherwise, their provisional ballots wouldn't be counted.
Arkansas is among 19 states where proposals to enact voter ID laws or strengthen existing requirements have been introduced this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Republicans have been pushing for similar laws in other states, although the measures have faced court challenges. Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have been blocked. Similar restrictions by Texas and South Carolina have been rejected by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, and Mississippi is waiting for federal approval of its photo ID law.
Four states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee — have similarly strict photo ID requirement laws in effect. Virginia will also have a strict photo ID requirement for voters in effect July 2014 under a measure signed into law this week by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Arkansas Republicans had pushed for voter ID requirements for years, but the measure failed to reach the governor's desk under Democratic majorities. In November, Republicans won control of both legislative chambers for the first time in 138 years, and they have been busy advancing their conservative agenda, including passing more restrictive abortion laws and less restrictive gun laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has called the requirement unconstitutional, and its executive director said Wednesday the group was prepared to go to court if it becomes law. Opponents of the measure say it would disenfranchise senior citizens, minorities and the poor.
"I think it sends a terrible message already in a society when we suffer from voter apathy in a very big way," said Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who voted against the override and has compared the measure to poll taxes used to disenfranchise black voters during the Jim Crow era.
The override attempt's fate is uncertain in the House, where it passed with 51 votes earlier this month. The only Democrat in that chamber to support the measure, Rep. Walls McCrary, later filed a letter with the chamber saying he intended to vote against it. Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats in the House.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, didn't vote on the measure and declined Wednesday to say whether he'd support overriding Beebe's veto.
"I'm going to go back and read the (attorney general's) opinion and the governor's reasoning on why he vetoed the bill," he told reporters. "Fundamentally I think we're down to the reasoning behind the veto, so I'll look at that and see."
The bill would exempt voters who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Beebe said Monday he was vetoing the bill because voter fraud hasn't been shown to be a problem.
"At a time when some argue for the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy and for reduced government spending, I find it ironic to be presented with a bill that increases government bureaucracy and increases government expenditures, all to address a need that has not been demonstrated," Beebe wrote in his veto letter. "I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens."
Associated Press Writer Michael Stratford contributed to this report
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