Election Law

Arkansas judge declares state's voter ID law unconstitutional


In a case questioning how a new Arkansas law requiring voters to present photo IDs would apply to absentee voters, a Pulaski County Circuit judge startled some onlookers by ruling Thursday that the entire law is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports.

Judge Tim Fox strictly interpreted the state’s constitution, which says that no law can be enacted that would cause the right to vote to be “impaired or forfeited, except for the commission of a felony, upon lawful conviction thereof.”

The case was brought by the Pulaski County Election Commission, which challenged the state Election Commission’s rule intended to cure the new law’s approach to absentee ballots. In-person voters have until one week after an election to present a photo ID; there is no provision concerning absentee voters.

The entire law “is declared void and unenforceable,” Judge Fox wrote in his opinion (PDF).

The voter ID law’s sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, said he was “shocked” at the ruling, adding that, “I though today was about the rulemaking on absentee ballots. It seems like (Judge Fox) jumped ahead of himself.”

The law targeting voter fraud was enacted after the Republican majority in the legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, says he will heed the Board of Election Commissioners’ request that his office appeal Judge Fox’s ruling.

The controversy over voter ID laws continues to percolate nationwide. Thus far 31 states require some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and seven states require photo IDs.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center filed suit (PDF) in the Pulaski Circuit Court on behalf of some voters challenging the new law on the same, broader terms on which Judge Fox ruled on Thursday. They hailed Fox’s decision.

“The important thing is it indicates voters will be able to vote,” said Holly Dickson, the ACLU of Arkansas’s legal director. “It matters not which suit as long as voters will be able to vote.”

Related article:

ABA Journal: “With the Supreme Court’s OK, states begin imposing new laws to limit the vote”

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