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Lawsuit challenging new Arkansas election-administration laws, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | May 25, 2021 at 11:51 a.m.
Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

A lawsuit filed last week asserts that four new Arkansas laws targeting the administration of elections will make voting harder, and sometimes impossible, for poor and minority-group voters.

The suit, brought by Arkansas United and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, calls on Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen to block implementation of the laws and eventually strike them down as unconstitutional.

What laws are targeted in the lawsuit?

There are four laws at issue in the litigation:

Act 249: Requires voters to present ID cards or appropriate documentation to vote. Voters used to be able to bypass the ID requirement by signing a sworn statement

Act 728: Create a 100-foot exclusion zone around polling site entrances during voting, allowing entry only for "lawful purposes” and prohibits voters from being joined by relatives and friends at the polls

Act 736: Requires signatures on absentee ballots to be verified by checking the voters' registration applications

Act 973: Requires absentee ballots that are submitted in person be turned in to the county clerk's office no later than the Friday before Election Day, instead of by Monday

Supporters of the laws say they strengthen Arkansas' election integrity and bolster public confidence in the system.

What about the laws do the groups take issue with?

The suit alleges that in a state already known for poor voter turnout, particularly by Black residents, state lawmakers have deliberately acted to make voting harder for no good reason.

The groups say supporters of the new laws cannot point to any significant election-administration problems that would justify the changes enacted, and Arkansas' most recent general election was declared "one of the most successful elections in state history" by Republican Secretary of State John Thurston.

Specifically, the suit alleges:

Act 249 puts voters who can't provide sufficient identification immediately at risk for having their ballots ignored

Act 728 makes voting more difficult for voters waiting in line and by banning companions, creates a particular hardship on elderly voters, voters with disabilities or voters who need translation assistance

Act 736 imposes a verification process prone to error that will result in burdens to voters and in some cases effectively deny them their right to vote

Act 973 will likely cost many early voters their right to have their ballots counted because the law creates "an impermissible risk of arbitrary disenfranchisement”

Read more about the lawsuit here from reporter John Lynch and learn more about the numerous voting-related bills passed during the 2021 session here, from reporter Rachel Herzog.

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