About a year ago, the Republican majority in Arkansas’ General Assembly – their first GOP majority in Little Rock since the 1870s – quickly tackled one of their top priorities: a voter-ID bill. Gov. Mike Beebe (D) quickly vetoed the measure, calling it “an expensive solution in search of a problem.”
State Republican lawmakers overrode the veto, and with the U.S. Supreme Court having gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department had limited options. Voting-rights proponents, however, had high hopes of prevailing in the courts, and as Zack Roth reported last night, they were right.
A judge has struck down Arkansas’s voter ID law, ruling that it violates the right to vote guaranteed in the state’s constitution.In an opinion released Thursday afternoon, Circuit Court Judge Timothy Fox wrote that the law, passed last year, “is unconstitutional as it adds additional qualifications for voters” beyond what’s in the constitution, and “impairs the right of suffrage” contained in the constitution.
The Arkansas judge’s order (pdf) is only a page and a half. Note that the state Constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, guarantees voting rights, and by adding new restrictions on citizens’ access to participate in elections, legislators appear to have crossed the line.
And in the Arkansas case, they crossed it brazenly, imposing restrictions that were even more outlandish than voter-suppression efforts elsewhere. In the hopes of combating a voter-fraud problem that doesn’t actually exist, the state’s voter-ID law presented “a limited range of government-approved forms of identification. Out-of-state college IDs, for instance, are not allowed. Voters without ID must cast provisional ballots, then go to the county clerk to affirm that they’re too ‘indigent’ to afford [one of the approved forms of identification]. And unlike some other states’ ID laws, this one does nothing to help voters obtain identification, such as providing transportation to government offices.”
An appeal is likely.
The speed with which the legal questions are resolved, meanwhile, matters a great deal. Arkansas’ primary day is May 20, and early voting begins in just 10 days.
What’s more, note that Arkansas is home this year to two very competitive statewide races: an open gubernatorial race and a closely watched U.S. Senate race pitting Sen. Mark Pryor (D) against Rep. Tom Cotton (R).