Arkansas attorney general plans appeal of judge’s decision to strike down voting laws

Rutledge says judge was wrong in striking down 4 measures

'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge will appeal a Pulaski County judge's decision to strike down four voting laws, she said Monday.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen granted a permanent injunction Friday blocking the four Republican-sponsored laws, saying legislators' fears of voter fraud could not justify passing laws restricting voting without proof of conduct the laws were purportedly passed to address.

"As the attorney general, I will fight to ensure Arkansans' fundamental right to vote is protected. In order to protect the integrity of elections in the state of Arkansas, I will appeal Judge Griffen's erroneous decision," Rutledge said in a statement Monday evening.

The complaint from the Arkansas League of Women Voters, immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United and five individual Arkansas voters names Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston and members of the state Board of Election Commissioners in their official capacities.

Griffen's ruling had not been formally entered as of Monday evening.

Arkansas League of Women Voters President Bonnie Miller said Saturday that Griffen's decision showed "the system of checks and balances served to protect our constitutional rights" while acknowledging the group expected an appeal.

"We get to celebrate this victory for democracy but we're already preparing for the inevitable appeal by the attorney general. However, we are confident that justice will continue to prevail and the right to vote will be protected," Miller said.

Meanwhile, state elections officials said Monday that they are waiting to see what happens with the appeal process before making any adjustments ahead of the May 24 primary and judicial election.

Daniel Shults, the election board's director, said Monday prior to Rutledge saying she would appeal the decision that part of his agency's obligation as he sees it is to defend the laws passed by the Arkansas General Assembly.

Shults said the agency has incorporated the laws passed during the 2021 session into its materials and plans to let the case work its way through the court system in hopes of a resolution before voting starts.

"I'm confident Arkansas election officials will be able to conduct the election in a safe, secure and lawful manner, however the Supreme Court decides the case," Shults said by phone.

He added that the agency will give counties instructions so that they comply with the decisions of the judiciary whatever the result.

Early voting begins May 9, and the deadline to register to vote is April 24.

The laws that are the subject of the case are:

• Act 249, which strikes from state law a provision allowing voters without IDs to sign a sworn statement when casting a provisional ballot

• Act 728, which prohibits people from standing within 100 feet of a polling site except to vote or for another "lawful purpose"

• Act 736, which requires a voter's signature on an absentee ballot be verified by checking the person's voter registration application

• Act 973, which moves the mail-in ballot deadline forward from the Monday before an election to the Friday before

The election commission has created a voter statement updated to comply with Act 249, as has the secretary of state's election calendar pursuant to Act 973, Niehaus said.

"No matter what the court decides we'll issue guidance on how to proceed," he said.

Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Terri Hollingsworth said she began conducting meetings with organizations and neighborhood associations after the new laws were first passed to ensure voters were informed and will continue making sure of that.

"Our office has been preparing for the primary election for several weeks and will follow the rule of law," she said in an email. "We are prepared either way."