State Supreme Court to hear election law case

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A case pending in the state Supreme Court claims that four state laws would disenfranchise poor voters, members of minority groups, immigrants or those with chronic health conditions.

Yet none of those laws, passed in last year’s legislative session, led to the rejection of more than a few ballots in the May 24 party primaries and nonpartisan court races, according to coordinators. voters in the state’s three most populous counties. The secretary of state’s office – which oversees the elections but is a defendant in the lawsuit – also said no problems with voting caused by the laws had been reported.

Arkansas ranked last in the United States in voter turnout and registration in the 2020 election, according to the latest report from the US Election Assistance Commission.

One of her group’s goals is to increase turnout, and laws create more barriers to that, said Mireya Reith, executive director of Arkansas United, a Springdale-based immigrant advocacy group. His group is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

The League of Women Voters of Arkansas is another of the plaintiffs in the case.

“We are deeply concerned about a number of newly enacted restrictions, but the matter is pending in the Arkansas Supreme Court and, pending a decision, we have encouraged Arkansans to participate in the primary and general elections,” said President Bonnie Miller. of Fayetteville said in a statement Friday.

The laws at issue in the lawsuit are as follows:

• Law 249, which requires voters filling out provisional ballots to submit photocopies of their identification by noon on the Monday following Election Day for their votes to be counted. Photocopies must be presented to the county board of election commissioners or the county clerk under the new law. These voters could previously give affidavits at the polling station during the provisional vote to ensure that their votes were counted.

• Law 728 prohibits people from standing within 100 feet of a polling place, except to vote or for other lawful purposes. Critics say the law would prohibit activities such as handing out water or snacks to voters waiting in line while waiting to vote.

• Law 736 introduced a requirement that a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot must be verified by verifying the person’s voter registration application. Previously, state law allowed election officials to verify multiple signatures. Several witnesses said the change could present barriers for many Arkansans, especially those with conditions like arthritis or kidney disease, which can make a voter’s signature inconsistent.

• Law 973 moved the deadline for voting by mail from the Monday before an election to the Friday before.

The three county election coordinators interviewed — Kim Dennison of Benton County, Amanda Dickens of Pulaski County and Jennifer Price of Washington County — said that when a problem arose on May 24, it usually involved requiring a photo ID.

A ballot is marked “tentative” when there is a problem, such as a voter failing to provide a photo ID prescribed for the election.

Washington County had 241 mail-in ballots that were counted in the May 24 primary, according to voter records. Eight mail-in ballots were missing copies of photo IDs, she said. Of those eight, three voters made it to the county clerk’s office in time to have their provisional ballots validated and counted. Similarly, 14 voters who voted in person did not have proper ID at the time, but three of them met the deadline to show ID later. It was among 29,598 ballots cast in Washington County in the primary, records show.

Benton County had about 300 absentee ballots, including 25 without photo ID, Dennison said. Only a handful got their ballots validated, she said. The county clerk’s office attempted to reach each of the 25 by phone, she said. Benton County’s voter turnout for the election was 34,401.

About 20 of the 300 provisional ballots lacked ID in Pulaski County, Dickens said. That was out of 28,051 votes cast there.


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