Since the voter ID bill cleared House committee last week, opponents of election reform have been scrambling to derail it. I wrote last week about their unwittingly hilarious attempts to stop voter ID due to the cost. Keep in mind: the cost of the bill, by the state’s own estimates, is 0.0065% of the state’s annual Medicaid budget. After the hysteria over the bill’s cost died down, the liberal blogosphere began heating up with speculation that the bill (SB2) was not legitimately passed by the Senate because it only got 23 votes. According to Amendment 51 of the state constitution, they said, it would require 24 votes or a “supermajority.”
Then today, Rep. Jim Nickels rose on the House floor to raise a point of order, claiming that SB2 was improperly before the House because it did not obtain the requisite number of votes. Speaker Davy Carter then referred the issue back to the House Rules Committee for further examination. The bill now resides in the hands of that committee.
But fear not proponents of election integrity: I made an inquiry with Advance Arkansas Institute President Dan Greenberg for a definitive answer on this issue. In short, Greenberg told me the concerns raised by Nickels and others are unfounded:
Regarding Amendment 51 and in particular whether Amendment 51 requires a 2/3 vote on King’s SB 2: it does not. To put it politely, the idea that Amendment 51 is relevant to SB 2 is highly confused. Amendment 51 is relevant only to voter registration, while SB 2 is relevant to the regulation of actual voting, which is of course very different.
Amendment 51 supplies conditions for amending Amendment 51. So if we are to amend Amendment 51, there are only two ways to do it. We could do it thru the conventional amendment process (vote of the people, etc.) or through the special 2/3 legislative vote provision (no vote of the people required after a 2/3 legislative vote). But it is important to note that either of these options would change the Constitution by amending it. Because SB 2 doesn’t change the constitution or amend it, it is entirely irrelevant to Amendment 51. Passage of SB 2 will not change or amend the constitution at all; it’s a bill and not an amendment, so bringing up the 2/3 requirement (for legislative constitutional amendment) is irrelevant and confused.
Translation: the concerns raised by Nickels are apples and oranges.
Note also that it is difficult or impossible to make the case that SB 2 changes voter registration procedures at all. There are only two places where SB 2 discusses voter registration. In Section 3 of SB 2, the bill changes the code references and numbering, but does not change the substance of the code. In Section 4, there is language that changes the regulation of voting, but does not change the registration procedure. The argument that either of these provisions changes voter registration is very weak (in the case of Section 3, it is completely empty).
When Amendment 51 is considered in its full context, it seems to be clearly irrelevant to the issue of voter ID/SB2. It always does my heart good to see politicians suddenly concerned about the constitutionality of a particular bill, but in this case their concerns misfire.
Stay tuned to TheArkansasProject.com for further developments on the voter ID bill and other important issues facing the legislature.