NLR Special Election Tests Revived AR Voter ID Law

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Hundreds flocked to the polls Tuesday for the first day of early voting for a one-percent sales tax increase in North Little Rock. 

Mayor Joe Smith called for the special election, arguing the tax hike is the only option to get the city's books back on track. 

The proposal is split in two parts. Half would be permanent revenue to help the city pay its bills, while the other half would fund streets, drainage and city buildings and expire after five years.

Supporters of the tax are willing to help the city, but opponents want to force the city to prioritize. 

"The city needs all the help they can get so we don't have to go in the red," said James Ard. "It's cheaper for everyone to help with this. We'll make more money if we do the sales tax."

"The City of North Little Rock does not budget correctly," said Kenny Wallis. "They're wasting millions of dollars on tourist pet projects, like the tugboat, the submarine and the trolley. And now they're trying to waste anywhere from $4 to $6 million on a plaza, which is another tourist pet project." 

If passed, the city's sales tax rate would rise to 9.5 percent, half a cent higher than Little Rock's.

The special election is one of five across Arkansas to test drive the state's revived voter ID law, which the state Supreme Court struck down in 2014. 

"I think it's a lot of mickey-markey," said Joan Wakelyn. "It's a lot of hooey. It's just a waste of everybody's time." 

"To do just about anything, you have to have an ID," said Kay Quinn. "I don't know what the big deal is. It went very smooth, very smooth. There wasn't really anything to it."

When Arkansans hit the polls, "Please Have Photo ID Ready" signs will welcome them inside. 

"The big difference this year is that even if people don't have their IDs, what they can do is vote a provisional ballot," said Bryan Poe, the Pulaski County election director. 

Under the 2013 law, voters had to bring their photo IDs to county election or clerk offices for their provisional ballots to count. Poe said all they have to do now is fill out the ballot and sign their name. 

As of Tuesday, one North Little Rock voter has used that method so far. 

"They're just signing off saying, 'I am who I say I am. I can vote in this election,'" Poe said. 

Poe said the North Little Rock special election passed day one of early voting with no hiccups. 

"Lot of extra steps that just aren't necessary," Wakelyn said. 

"If you go in there knowing you've got to show your photo ID that shouldn't be a problem," Quinn said. 

However, Poe knows voters in these smaller elections don't reflect the entire population that will cast ballots in the primary and general elections. 

"The people who are voting are the people who are very familiar with the process," Poe said. "Not the people who are going to be surprised by the new law."

While Poe waits until 2018 for the true test of the revived law, Arkansas voters could agree on one thing at the polls: let your voice be heard. 

"That's the only thing we have really today is our vote," Quinn said.   

Like the previous voter ID law, the new measure requires election officials to provide free photo IDs to voters if they don't have any other photo ID. To do that, Poe said the secretary of state's office is issuing ID card printers to every county clerk office. 

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