Politics

Unanimous Arkansas Supreme Court Rules Voter ID Unconstitutional

CREDIT: AP Photo/Marc Levy

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS—Late Wednesday afternoon, the Arkansas Supreme Court released a unanimous decision holding the voter ID law passed earlier this year in violation of the state’s constitution. The judges wrote: “The legislature can not, under color of regulating the manner of holding elections…impose such restrictions as will have the effect to take away the right to vote as secured by the constitution.”

“We are extremely pleased,” lead attorney Jeff Priebe told ThinkProgress. “This decision really shows the importance of voting. The Arkansas Constitution holds that the right to vote is a fundamental right, the gateway to all others. It’s so important that we can’t erect additional qualifications that would keep people from voting.”

The ruling affirms a lower court ruling back in April, saying the law is “unconstitutional on its face.”

Unlike cases in Texas and other states where court battles over voter ID laws delved into the merits of the law — with those on one side arguing they address voter fraud, and opponents accusing them of intentionally suppressing votes — the Arkansas case turned on a purely technical question: can the legislature add any more requirements to vote than those already listed in the state’s constitution? The court said today they cannot.

The judges went on to quote Democratic Governor Mike Beebe calling the law “an expensive solution in search of a problem” and “an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens.”

In the case, Priebe and the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union represented four registered voters in Pulaski County who lacked a valid ID and would thus be disenfranchised in the upcoming midterm election.

“These voters will now be able to cast a ballot in the November general election that will be counted,” he told ThinkProgress. “And countless others will be able to cast a ballot and they won’t have to jump through any hoops to get an ID.”

The ACLU monitored the state’s primary elections in May, finding more than a thousand valid voters across the state had their ballots thrown out because they lacked an ID. ThinkProgress spoke with a 79-year-old great-great-grandmother whose absentee ballot was thrown out in her county’s special election in March because she knew nothing about the voter ID law until she was notified that her vote was never counted. The state had done almost no outreach and education about the law.