In court filing, Arkansas officials argue election laws legal, claim sovereign immunity

It also argues state immunity in suit over balloting changes

FILE — The Arkansas State Supreme Court building is shown in this undated file photo.
FILE — The Arkansas State Supreme Court building is shown in this undated file photo.

Arkansas has submitted a brief to the Arkansas Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit challenging a slate of recently passed election laws.

The Arkansas League of Women Voters, immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United and five Arkansas voters sued the state after the General Assembly passed a group of laws that the plaintiffs say make it harder for poor and minority-group citizens to vote.

Assistant Attorney General Michael A. Mosley argued in a brief filed Wednesday that the four election laws pass constitutional muster and that the lawsuit is not valid because the state has "sovereign immunity."

The four laws -- Act 249, Act 728, Act 736 and Act 973 -- were passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature during the legislative session in the spring.

Proponents of the laws argued that the changes made in Arkansas' election laws help strengthen the integrity of the state's elections.

Act 249 removes the ability of a voter to obtain a provisional ballot without identification by signing a sworn statement. Act 728 limits people standing within 100 feet of the main entrance of a polling site.

The law exempts people who are at a voting site for "lawful purposes" such as entering or leaving a building to vote.

Act 736 changes how absentee ballots are verified, and Act 973 requires absentee ballots to be dropped off in person to the local county clerk by the close of business on the Friday before election day.

In the brief, Mosley representing Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston and the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners, said the four laws help address the "principle of integrity in the electoral process."

"Rather, at most, the laws at issue involve election mechanics, not the franchise itself," Mosley wrote. "The United States Supreme Court has clearly made a distinction between laws like the acts challenged here and laws that actually implicate the right to vote."

Attorneys for the state also argued that they can't be sued because of "sovereign immunity," something a Pulaski County judge said was "without merit" in an earlier ruling.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court in May, called the four election laws "voter suppression laws."

"Among the General Assembly's top priorities was a series of election bills that restrict nearly every form of voting that Arkansans relied on in 2020," according to the lawsuit. "These restrictions will exacerbate Arkansas's long and dismal tradition of abysmally low voter turnout, particularly among the state's Black voters."

In October, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen rejected arguments by the state to dismiss the lawsuit, clearing the way for the legal challenge of the election laws to precede to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In the brief filed Wednesday, Mosley asked the state Supreme Court to reverse Griffen's ruling and to dismiss the case.

The laws come in the wake of doubts over the results of the 2020 presidential election pushed by claims of voter fraud and tampering made by former President Donald Trump.

Some of the state's changes to election law drew comparisons to other Republican-controlled states, such as Georgia, which also received criticism for changing laws on voting.

Attorneys representing the Arkansas League of Women Voters, Arkansas United and the five registered voters have until Jan. 10 to file a reply brief with the court.

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