June 24, 2014
Little Rock, AR- In a case that could impact the outcome of future elections, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU) and the Arkansas Public Law Center (APLC) today asked a state trial court to halt the state voter ID law. According to the groups, more than 1,000 eligible votes were not counted in the May primary, spotlighting the need to block the law from remaining in effect.
The ACLU and APLC filed suit in April charging that the law added a new qualification to voting over and above those set by the Arkansas Constitution. They sought an order preventing the law from going into effect. The judge agreed, ruling the law violated voting rights as protected by the Arkansas Constitution. However, the judge stayed the ruling because a related case regarding absentee ballots was pending before the Arkansas Supreme Court. A decision in that case was later issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court but it did not address the constitutionality of the law, and the new law was applied statewide for the first time during last month’s primary election. “We learned there were over 1,000 registered, legitimate voters whose votes were not counted solely due to this law,” said ACLU Legal Director Holly Dickson. “The Arkansas Constitution says that Arkansans are guaranteed free and fair elections, but this law sets aside legitimate votes. That attacks the foundation of our system of government and we are asking the court to protect voters and the integrity of our elections by letting voters vote.”
The filing today asks that the court’s stay be lifted so that the law cannot be applied to voters in future elections while the decision striking down the law is pending appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The ACLU submitted with their request information from public records requests they made to determine the extent to which voters in the primary were affected by the new Voter ID law.
The ACLU and APLC filed suit on behalf of four voters, three of whom do not possess the forms of ID required by the law. Two of the plaintiffs who do not possess photo ID cannot obtain copies of their own birth certificates without a photo ID and paying a fee for the documents. A third was never issued a birth certificate by the State of Arkansas, though he has voted in Arkansas elections since the 1950s. The Arkansas Secretary of State, at a hearing May 2, stipulated that all four are registered Arkansas voters, and the state has not taken issue with the legitimacy of those voters’ registrations. Nonetheless, these four voters, and others Arkansans’ votes did not count because of the ID law.
Arkansas law separately requires that a voters’ identity be checked and verified before the voter is added to the registration list. Routine checks on the state’s voter registration list eliminate voters who should not be on the list because they have since registered elsewhere, or have passed away, for example. In addition to these routine checks, the voter ID law requires voters at the polls to show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government each time they vote, and mandates that absentee voters submit some form of “proof of identity” which each ballot. Unlike voters at the polls, absentee voters do not have to submit Arkansas or federally issued IDs but can use a bank statement, utility bill, lease, or other document showing the voter’s name and residential address. With 72 out of 75 counties responding, public records requests made by the ACLU show that 933 absentee and 131 voters at the polls – a total so far of 1,064 voters – had their votes set aside in the primary. Should turnout rates and disenfranchisement rates remain steady, notes the ACLU, the rights of thousands more voters could be at risk in November.
Numbers of voters disenfranchised by county can be found online at: http://www.acluarkansas.org/contentitemdocuments/294.pdf