ACLU, others argue voter ID law is unconstitutional


LITTLE ROCK — A circuit judge’s order barring enforcement of Arkansas’ voter identification law should be upheld and a stay of the order should be lifted, attorneys for four voters who challenged the law argued Monday in a brief filed with the state Supreme Court.

Also Monday, college professors, activist groups and an Arkansas county clerk asked the court for permission to file friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the plaintiffs’ position, and the plaintiffs asked for permission to present oral arguments.

On May 2, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Act 595 of 2013, finding that the law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls is unconstitutional. Fox stayed his order, pending an expected appeal, so the law remained in effect for the May 20 primary election and the June 10 runoff election.

Secretary of State Mark Martin, named as a defendant in the voters’ lawsuit, is appealing Fox’s order to the Supreme Court. The Arkansas Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center, who filed the lawsuit challenging Act 595 on behalf of four Arkansas voters, had a Monday deadline to file a brief in the case.

Martin’s office argued in a filing last month that Fox erred when he ruled that Act 595 improperly goes beyond the qualifications for voters set forth in Article 3 of the state constitution. The law provides a procedure to ensure that voters meet the established qualifications and are who they say they are, but it does not impose any new qualifications, the secretary of state’s office maintained.

In their brief Monday, the plaintiffs argued that Act 595 does impose new qualifications on voters and is “a sea change.”

“The circuit court correctly determined that Act 595’s proof of identity requirement is ‘in excess of what you had to show up with to get registered to vote,’ rendering the provision a qualification to vote,” the plaintiffs said in their brief.

Martin’s office also had argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the law because they never showed that they had been harmed by it. The plaintiffs argued Monday that the defendants established standing by showing they are registered to vote in Arkansas — and that three of the four plaintiffs do not have photo ID.

The secretary of state’s office also had argued that the plaintiffs never showed they would be irreparably harmed without a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs said Monday that preventing qualified voters from voting because they lack photo ID would cause irreparable harm.

The plaintiffs also disagreed with Martin’s arguments that Fox should not have granted a preliminary injunction because the plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on the merits of the case; because the state is protected by sovereign immunity; and because county clerks and county election commissioners were improperly omitted as parties to the case.

Also Monday, Arkansas Tech University history professor Thomas DeBlack, University of Arkansas associate professor of political science William Schreckhise, UA Distinguished Practitioner in Residence Nate Coulter and University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor John DiPippa tendered an amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, brief arguing that Act 595 is unconstitutional and that in-person voter impersonation fraud, which the law aims to prevent, is “virtually non-existent.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and several other activist organizations offered a separate amicus brief Monday arguing that Act 595 “disproportionately disenfranchises black and other vulnerable Arkansas voters.”

Pulaski County and Circuit Clerk Larry Crane offered an amicus brief Monday arguing that in essence the law unconstitutionally “requires lawfully registered Arkansas voters to ‘requalify’ themselves each time they vote in an election in this state.”

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed Act 595 last year, but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto. The ACLU has alleged that more than 1,000 votes by qualified voters were not counted in the May 20 primary election because of the law.