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Voter ID measure advances in Arkansas state House

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas lawmakers, following the lead of other legislators across the country, approved a measure on Wednesday to require voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot.

The measure passed on a 51-44 vote in the Republican-controlled state House with support from one Democrat. It now returns to the Senate, which approved a similar measure, for a vote on an amendment.

Democratic Governor Mike Beebe has not said whether he would sign the bill into law and have Arkansas join the nearly three dozen states that have similar laws on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Legal challenges to those laws are pending in several states where the measures have passed.

"We're reviewing the legal issues with voter ID laws that have been raised in other states and plan to consult with the attorney general," said Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample.

Under current Arkansas law, poll workers can request identifying documents, but voters are not required to show them. If the bill becomes law, photo ID cards would be made by county clerks at no cost for registered voters who don't have other valid forms of identification. The state Bureau of Legislative Research has reported it would cost the state an additional $300,000.

If the bill becomes law, voters without an ID could still cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted if the voter returned with photo identification.

The Arkansas bill was challenged by opponents in the House, who argued that the state's constitution requires a two-thirds supermajority on the measure because it affects the state constitution's voting amendment.

But earlier Wednesday, the House Rules Committee voted that the bill was properly referred to the House from the Senate on a 23-12 vote.

Rita Sklar, director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said that the ACLU will fight the measure if it becomes law.

"It has been shown in state after state that such laws do disenfranchise voters," Sklar said. "It could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in Arkansas particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, young people and minorities all of whom are less likely to have photo ID."

The bill's supporters said it would eliminate the possibility of voter fraud and the increase the legitimacy of elections.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Walsh)

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