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Judge strikes down Arkansas voter ID law as unconstitutional

The measure "impairs the right of suffrage" contained in the constitution, wrote Judge Timothy Fox. The state plans to appeal.
Arkansas voters line up in the rain at an early voting poling place in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 5, 2012.
Arkansas voters line up in the rain at an early voting poling place in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 5, 2012.

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.

"We just received the Court’s decision and are in the process of reviewing it," said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, adding, "The State Board of Election Commissioners has already contacted us requesting an appeal and we will work as quickly as possible on the board’s behalf to appeal this decision." 

The law had been challenged by the Pulaski County Election Commission. A separate challenge was filed last week by the ACLU of Arkansas. 

Fox's opinion cited an 1865 ruling by the state Supreme Court, holding that laws depriving qualified voters of the right to vote are unconstitutional. That decision overturned an 1864 law passed by Unionists that disenfranchised anyone still supporting the Confederacy.

The voter ID measure requires that voters present 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 ID. And unlike some other states’ ID laws, this one does nothing to help voters obtain identification, such as providing transportation to government offices.

The law was approved last year by Arkansas’ GOP-controlled legislature, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who said it “unnecessarily restricts and impairs our citizens’ right to vote.” Lawmakers then overrode Beebe’s veto.

The law could make it harder for key Democratic groups, including minorities and students, to get to the polls this fall. Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is one of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents this cycle, and the race could determine control of the U.S. Senate.