LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down Arkansas’ voter identification law on Wednesday, just days ahead of the start of early voting for the Nov. 4 general election.
The court on Wednesday affirmed Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s May 2 ruling that the law is unconstitutional. The court was unanimous in upholding Fox’s ruling, although three of the justices said they reached their decision for different reasons than the other four justices.
Act 595 of 2013 required Arkansas voters to show photo identification at the polls. It contained a provision allowing a voter who does not have photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and giving the voter until noon on the Monday after the election to show proof of identification to the court clerk or the local election board.
After a group of Arkansas voters filed a lawsuit challenging the law, Fox ruled, during a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, that Act 595 was unconstitutional because it imposed qualifications on voters that went beyond the qualifications set forth in the Arkansas Constitution.
Fox stayed his ruling pending the expected appeal, so the law was in effect for the May 20 primary. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which brought the lawsuit, has said more than 1,000 ballots of legitimate voters went uncounted in the primary election solely because of the law.
In an opinion written by Justice Donald Corbin, the Supreme Court agreed Wednesday with Fox’s analysis.
Corbin wrote that Article 3, Section 1 of the state constitution establishes four qualifications to vote in Arkansas: A person must be a U.S. citizen, an Arkansas resident, at least 18 years of age and lawfully registered to vote.
“These four qualifications simply set forth in our state’s constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement,” Corbin wrote.
Chief Justice Jim Hannah and justices Paul Danielson and Cliff Hoofman joined in Corbin’s opinion.
Justice Courtney Goodson wrote in a separate opinion that she concurred in the decision of the majority but would have struck down Act 595 because the Legislature did not enact it with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.
Goodson wrote that “if the General Assembly possesses the power to enact Act 595 at all, that power necessarily emanates from Amendment 51” to the state constitution, which concerns voter registration. Goodson said the Legislature can only amend a constitutional amendment passed by a vote of the people with a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
Because the measure did not meet that vote threshold, Goodson wrote that she would not consider whether it was constitutional. Justices Karen Baker and Josephine Hart joined in Goodson’s opinion.
Lawyer Jeff Priebe, who argued the plaintiffs’ case before the Supreme Court, said Wednesday, “We are extremely pleased with the ruling. We believed in our arguments and we believed that the Pulaski County Circuit Court got it right.”
Priebe said the ruling states that it takes effect immediately. Early voting begins Monday for the Nov. 4 election.
“We believe with this ruling that the voters who do not have ID will be able to vote, and they will be able to vote good ballots that will be counted,” he said.
Laura Lebay, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that “we are reviewing the ruling.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that they did not have photo ID but were registered voters and should be allowed to vote. Holly Dickson, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said Wednesday, “There was no question these voters are legitimate, registered Arkansas voters and now their votes will be counted. We are relieved and thrilled.”
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the Republican-backed legislation last year, but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto. The state Democratic Party hailed the ruling Wednesday, while the state Republican Party criticized it.
“We are thrilled that the Republican voter ID law was unanimously struck down as unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court,” state Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Insalaco said in a statement. “While a thousand votes were thrown out during May’s primary when the Voter ID law was in place, every vote will be justly counted in November’s election. Today’s decision is a win for all Arkansas voters.”
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said in a statement, “We had hoped that the Supreme Court would affirm the voter ID Law and help restore the integrity of the ballot in Arkansas; unfortunately, the court failed to do so. We do not anticipate that this will have any impact on Republican victories in November since the people of Arkansas now identify with the views and values of the Republican Party as reflected in the last two election cycles.”