Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Voter ID Law

Robert Patton stands across the street from the Central Methodist Church polling area during the rainy weather on the November 4th 2014 general election day.  

The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously declared the voter identification law unconstitutional before midterm elections this year.

Act 595, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, stated that state residents must present a valid, state-issued photo ID at the polls in order to vote. The Arkansas State Constitution states that in order to vote, a person must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of Arkansas, registered to vote and over the age of 18.

“The new voter ID requirement amounted to an additional qualification that a resident had to meet in order to vote in Arkansas,” said Jeff Priebe, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case.

There were four plaintiffs in the seven-month case. Three were suing because they were registered voters who lacked photo ID, and the fourth was a conscientious objector, suing on principle because of the the illegitimacy of the law, Priebe said.

All seven justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional. Four said that it violated Article 3 of the state constitution, which specifies voting qualifications, and three said it violated the 59th Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution, Priebe said.

The law was passed to prevent voter fraud, Priebe said. However, voter fraud is not very common, and the number of people who lost the ability to vote because of the law far exceeded the potential number of cases of in-person voter fraud.

“As far as I can tell, there have not been cases of in-person voter fraud in Arkansas,” Priebe said. “After the spring primary election, there were over 1,000 ballots that were not counted because of the provisions of Act 595.”

The law, which was struck down Oct. 15, did not affect the ballots of the Nov. 4 election.

“What’s interesting is, when this law was passed, the state legislature was told by the attorney general and Gov. Mike Beebe that this law had severe constitutional problems,” Priebe said. “I agree with the Arkansas Supreme Court in that this law prevented otherwise qualified Arkansans from casting ballots.”

Others agree that the law was unconstitutional.

“The United States has an abysmally low voter-turnout rate,” said Bill Schreckhise, the director of legal studies at the UofA. “We should do everything we can to make  it as easy as humanly possible for people to vote.”

The law, which was deemed extra-constitutional according to court documents provided by Priebe, had potential to disenfranchise large swaths of people to prevent a problem that did not seem to actually exist, Schreckhise said.

“I don’t know of a single case where someone has gone to the polls and been turned away because someone else voted in their place,” Schreckhise said. “People aren’t willing to risk prosecution to attain a single extra vote.”

Several other state judiciaries, such as those in Pennsylvania and Missouri, have also come to this conclusion and have struck down their voter ID laws.

“I think you need to be able to prove that you live here if you want to be able to vote here,” freshman Stephen McAndrew said.
However, others disagreed.
“I got a minor in possession of alcohol over the summer, so I don’t have a driver’s license right now,” said freshman Colin Andrews. “I’m still a qualified resident of the state though, so I should be able to vote.”
Voters in Arkansas no longer must present a valid photo ID to vote.

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