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Overturning and reinstatement of Arkansas’ new voter laws, explained

by Nyssa Kruse | April 7, 2022 at 11:36 a.m.
In this May 21, 2018, photo, a roll of stickers awaiting distribution to early voters sits on a table at the check-in station at the Pulaski County Courthouse Annex in Little Rock, Ark. Voters in four states are casting ballots Tuesday as the 2018 midterm elections take shape. Primaries are set in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky while voters in Texas settle several primary runoffs from their first round of voting in March. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

The Arkansas General Assembly approved four voting laws in 2021 that have been at the center of a lawsuit filed by voters and voting rights groups. A lower court overturned the laws, but the state Supreme Court has now reinstated them, just in time for the state’s primary.

Back up: what do the laws say?

There are four laws at issue.

  • Act 249: Requires voters who fill out provisional ballots to submit photocopies of their IDs by noon on the Monday after Election Day for their votes to be counted. Those voters previously could give sworn statements when casting a provisional ballot to ensure their votes were counted.
  • Act 728: Creates 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.

What did the lawsuit say?

The suit alleges that in a state already known for poor voter turnout, particularly by Black residents, Arkansas lawmakers have deliberately acted to make voting harder, violating voters’ rights.

The groups say supporters of the new laws cannot point to any significant election-administration problems that would justify the changes enacted.

What did the lower court say?

After a four-day trial, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen last month found the laws violated the Arkansas Constitution by placing an undue burden on voters.

He also noted that the defendants in the case had failed to produce evidence of the sort of voter fraud or voter intimidation the backers of the new laws said they needed to prevent. He enacted an injunction to prevent the laws from going into effect.

What did the Supreme Court say?

After losing at the circuit level, the state appealed the ruling to the higher court and asked for the laws to be temporarily reinstated while the case continues because the changing rules could cause "electoral chaos and confusion" during the primary, which is on May 24.

The Supreme Court granted the request to reinstate the laws, but the order did not explain the court’s reasoning. However, the ruling is temporary, only in place until the court can evaluate the case.

The court also approved the state’s request for expedited consideration of the case, but no timeline has been set.

Read more about the Supreme Court’s decision and the lawsuit from reporter Dale Ellis, and sign up for our Voter Guide email to stay tuned in to all things related to the primary.

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