From Barry Haas’ perspective, the Arkansas state law requiring voters to show approved forms of photo identification before casting a ballot accomplished something he never thought would occur on U.S. soil.
For the first time in about 50 years, his vote – as a U.S. citizen and resident in Arkansas – was rejected by election officials. In March, he declined to show photo ID as state law mandated. The law went into effect in January.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of Haas and three other voters who say the law, formally known as Act 595, affects their right to participate in elections.
On Thursday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox considered questions about how the law affects absentee ballots and ruled the law unconstitutional, The Associated Press reported.
Fox, the news service said, examined the law and found that “none of it was valid.”
While supporters of the law have argued that it’s needed to prevent in-person voting fraud, Haas maintains that it could actually disenfranchise tens of thousands of qualified voters in Arkansas who do not have approved photo IDs.
On April 22, before the ruling, Equal Voice News talked with Haas, a community activist who sits on the board of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, about his thoughts on the law and how he became one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Haas said he is participating in the ACLU lawsuit independent of his work for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. The next election in the state is on May 20.
Name: Barry Haas
Hometown: Little Rock, Ark. (since 1967)
Q: How did you get involved in the lawsuit?
I testified against the bill when it was in the Legislature in 2011. I testified against it again in 2013 in the committees. As a long time poll worker and chief judge of one of the largest polling places in Little Rock, I am familiar with the nuts and bolts of the voting process.
I am a process person. I want the process to be fair. So, that probably is part of the reason why this voter ID bill sticks in my craw.
I was a poll worker for about 12 years. One thing I endeavored to do for every voter who came into our voting place was to make sure they had been treated well.
Also, my four years active duty in the Air Force, that is one of the reasons why I served – to protect our right to vote.
Q: What are your concerns with the voter ID law?
When this voter ID bill got dropped in the hopper, I took offense that it had the stated goals of dealing with a non-existent voter impersonation issue. That’s where someone goes in and pretends to be someone else and vote in someone else’s place.
It’s non existent because when the sponsors of the legislation were asked for examples, they could not come up with one single example. It is so rare. You can look at the Department of Justice studies, state studies, NGO studies.
This deals specifically with voter impersonation fraud.
We have a constitutional right to vote. In Arkansas, the state constitution says you have to be a citizen of the U.S. and a citizen of Arkansas, you have to be at least 18 years old and you have to be registered to vote.
And the Arkansas constitution says in fairly explicit language that you can’t add additional burdens to those criteria.
Q: What do you view as potential downsides of the voter ID law?
Some lawmakers said it would deal with voter fraud, and it improves the integrity of the process. But it potentially causes problems for tens of thousands of Arkansas voters.
What I did last year, I called the Arkansas Department of Motor Vehicles to find out how many people had driver’s licenses and who were 18 and older and I compared those figures. About 80,000 Arkansasans did not have a driver’s license.
Keep in mind that people are registered to vote. They have been voting for many years. On May 20, they will go to the polls and not have the approved form of ID. If they cannot provide one by noon on the Monday following the election, their vote will not count.
Q: How was your vote actually rejected?
In my case, on March 11, we had a special election, a technical college was asking for a tax increase for additional funds. I went to vote. When they asked if I had a photo ID, I refused to provide it.
Then, they sent me to a different desk and started the provisional ballot process. I sealed my ballot in the envelope and that goes downtown to the county election commission. And since I declined to provide a valid photo ID by Monday noon following the election, my vote was not counted.
For the first time in almost 50 years of voting, I was disenfranchised.
The state voter ID law was voted on, vetoed and overridden all last year.
Q: What was your reaction to the rejection?
I was calm about it. I just couldn’t bring myself to do something that I thought would violate the state constitution.
The Arkansas constitution, the current one, was approved after the Civil War and it explicitly sets out the requirement for an Arkansas citizen to vote.
Q: Could talk more about your involvement in the lawsuit?
The ACLU and other organizations felt this law violated the state constitution. One reason I was included as a plaintiff is because I was already disenfranchised in March.
I’m the guinea pig.
Q: Where does your sense of fairness come from?
I am a community activist. I work on a whole range of issues. I’ve been involved in lawsuits before. I don’t go looking for them but this is how we solve things in society sometimes.
Sometimes, you have to put your name out there if you believe in something strongly enough. You hope that it makes positive change for your fellow citizens.
Demographically, more of the folks who don’t have driver’s licenses tend to be elderly, young folks, people of color and identifiable groups that vote Democrat more than Republican.
Q: What else do you want people to know about this Arkansas state law?
The voter ID bill here requires the state to issue a free photo ID to voters who don’t have one. But that free photo ID is only provided at county seats.
If constituents lack a driver’s license and had to drive to the county seat, they would need someone to drive them. Some have to drive 100 miles round trip.
And then they have to get documentation, like a copy of their birth certificate. They have to prove who they are so they can vote.
I liken it to a 2014 poll tax.
You’re talking about people who don’t have resources. You’re forcing them to clear a hurdle that is very expensive.
These voter ID laws are designed to reduce the number of eligible voters. I am in favor of lawmakers finding ways to increase the number of voters, not to discourage.
So we can make intelligent choices.
The best election results we get is when the highest percentage of eligible Americans can vote. We can get a better picture of where we want to go.
Interview conducted by Brad Wong, assistant news editor for Equal Voice News. This interview has been updated since it was posted to reflect a state judge’s ruling on Thursday that the voter ID law is unconstitutional.
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