Little Rock, Ark. – The Arkansas Supreme Court today unanimously struck down the state’s restrictive photo ID requirement, ruling it violated the state constitution by imposing an additional “qualification” to voting that would make it harder for citizens to cast a ballot.
The ruling comes as many Americans face an ever-shifting voting landscape before heading to the polls this November. Arkansas was one of seven states with a major lawsuit challenging voting restrictions ahead of the 2014 election. Yesterday, an appellate court reinstated Texas’s photo ID law. Plaintiffs filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently blocked implementation of Wisconsin’s strict photo ID law, but allowed restrictions to remain in place in North Carolina and Ohio.
With Arkansas’s photo ID law blocked, since the 2010 election, new restrictions are now slated to be in place in 21 states, 14 for the first time this year.
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“This is what courts should be doing, blocking controversial new voting restrictions before they mar an election,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “Arkansas’s overly harsh law would have drove down participation and made it harder for voters to make their voices heard. This is a tremendous victory.”
“The court’s unanimous decision is an important victory for the many lifelong Arkansas voters who would have been disenfranchised by one of the strictest photo ID laws in the country,” said Michael Li, counsel in the Center’s Democracy Program. “Today’s decision reaffirms that when it comes to voting, the Arkansas Constitution is steadfast in protecting voters.”
The Brennan Center’s brief — filed with pro bono counsel Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Cullen & Company — made three core arguments:
- The Arkansas constitution clearly guarantees the right to vote for all eligible citizens and explicitly prohibits the state legislature from burdening that right. The brief explored Arkansas’s long history of zealously limiting interference with its citizens’ fundamental right to vote.
- Numerous social science studies show harsh photo ID laws like Arkansas’s raise the cost of voting, drive down voter participation, and disproportionately exclude low-income and other voters from the electoral process. Brennan Center research found 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID, and those earning $35,000 per year or less were twice as likely to lack ID. Arkansas ranks 47th in the country in terms of average median income.
- These costs are being imposed to combat the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter impersonation fraud. In a 2003 comprehensive study, Rutgers University Political Science Professor Lorraine Minnite found this type of fraud to be “very rare.”
Arkansas’s photo ID law passed in 2013 along party lines. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox found the law unconstitutional in two separate cases. The Supreme Court overturned one decision but did not decide on the constitutionality of the photo ID requirement until now. The ID measure was in effect for the May 20 primary and caused some problems. More than 1,000 absentee ballots were not counted because voters lacked ID. And Asa Hutchinson, the winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary, forgot his ID when he went to the polls. He was able to vote after a staff member retrieved it for him.
Experts on the brief were Dean John DiPippa (Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), Dr. Thomas DeBlack (Professor of History at Arkansas Tech University), Dr. Bill Schreckhise (Associate Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies Minor Advisor at the University of Arkansas), and Nate Coulter (Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence at the University of Arkansas School of Law).
See all of the Brennan Center’s Election 2014 resources.