May 2, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. –Today a state court agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center (APLC) that the Arkansas Voter ID law violates the Arkansas Constitution.   The ACLU and APLC asked for an emergency decision to halt enforcement of the law for fear registered voters lacking the appropriate identification would face “irreparable harm” by losing their ability to vote; the emergency exists because early voting for the Arkansas primary elections starts Monday May 5 and the primary itself is on May 20.  The ACLU and APLC filed a lawsuit asserting that the Voter ID law violates the Arkansas Constitution by impairing the right to vote and by adding to the voting qualifications already set out in the Constitution.

The judge agreed that the law should not be enforced, but, he said, because a related case addressing the same law is before the State Supreme Court and needs to wind its way through the system, he put his decision on hold pending guidance from that Court.

The law, passed in 2013, places additional restrictions on Arkansans by prohibiting them from exercising their fundamental right to vote unless they present state or federal government-issued photo ID.  Based on national estimates, 10% of Arkansas voters lack the necessary ID.  The law does not provide any assistance in helping voters obtain ID, such as transportation, payment for documents needed to obtain ID such as birth certificates, or aid in locating such documents.

"People who do not already have government issued identification can have a very hard time obtaining government issued photo ID," said Rita Sklar, executive director if the ACLU of Arkansas.  “A lot of people don’t realize what a hardship it can be for some people to get these documents.  Our clients are registered legitimate voters who do not have the required ID, and they want to exercise their right to participate in the democratic process, as they have in the past.  We are hopeful that the court’s ruling will mean that they will regain their fundamental right to vote.”

According to the Arkansas Voter ID law, if voters do not have photo ID, they must cast a provisional ballot and then make a separate trip to the county clerk and swear that they are too “indigent” to obtain ID, which is intimidating and humiliating, as well as a burden, according to the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several individuals impacted by this law. They include the following plaintiffs: 

  • A voter born in Arkansas 78 years ago and never issued a birth certificate.  State law requires three forms of ID before a delayed birth certificate will be issued.  Joe would have to go to court and ask a judge to order that he be issued a delayed birth certificate before he can then take steps to get the appropriate ID required to vote.
  • Two other voters neither of whom can obtain copies of their birth certificates because they lack the ID required to get them; without a birth certificate or other ID they cannot obtain the government issued photo ID required to vote.

The case, Kohls, et. al. v Martin, was filed in the Pulaski County Circuit Court against Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin and The State Board of Election Commissioners, who have the duty to regulate, implement, monitor and enforce election laws in Arkansas.

In a related case heard by the same court last week, the Pulaski County Election Commission sued the State regarding rules the State Election Commission created in response to a perceived deficiency of the Voter ID law regarding absentee voters.  In that lawsuit, the court found the Voter ID law unconstitutional and ordered that it not be enforced.  After an appeal by the State, however, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked judge’s ruling in that particular case, and left open the possibility that the law could be challenged and blocked in another case.

A copy of the ACLU complaint and client profiles can be found online.  The order is here.