A lawsuit was filed today in Pulaski Circuit Court challenging the 2017 legislation that attempts a constitutional means to require a photo ID to vote.

The previous law was struck down as unconstitutional in a lawsuit filed by the same lawyer, Jeff Priebe.  That led to a new law this session. The legislature has also put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to provide constitutional protection to stricter ID requirements at the poll, a strategy Republicans have used around the country with success to depress voting by the poor, college students and minorities. Republicans have led the Voter ID push in Arkansas.

Barry Haas of Little Rock, long a civic activist, is plaintiff in the lawsuit. Defendants are Secretary of State Mark Martin and the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Simply put, the suit argues that the law imposes additional barriers to voting, which the Arkansas Constitution prohibits. The Constitution lists only four qualifications: U.S. citizens, Arkansas resident, 18 years old and lawfully registered.

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Section 2 of Article 3 elaborates:

Elections shall be free and equal. No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage; nor shall any law be enacted whereby such right shall be impaired or forfeited, except for the commission of a felony, upon lawful conviction thereof.

The legislature will argue that its ability to add a Voter ID requirement can be linked to Amendment 51, which eliminated the poll tax and set up a voter registration system. The amendment authorizes legislative changes in the registration, but only “so long as such amendments are germane to [Amendment 51] and consistent with its policy and purposes.” Priebe argues that the 2017 law adds requirements that are not germane.

Priebe argues that the 2017 law was couched as “proof of identity” legislation but it is nothing short of another attempt to require a Voter ID, held unconstitutional in 2014. (The membership of the Arkansas Supreme Court has changed significantly since then and, in a recent case, the new membership has shown a willingness to reverse precedent.) Priebe wrote of the 2017 law:

In Act 633, the Arkansas General Assembly sought to amend Amendment 51 to the Arkansas Constitution and set forth various code sections to again implement new requirements and qualifications for voters in the State of Arkansas and to provide
obstacles for voters casting absentee ballots and at the polling booth, including both at  early voting locations and on Election Day. One purpose of Act 633 was and is to place barriers between the ballot box and otherwise qualified Arkansas Voters and to prevent their ballots from being cast and/or counted. 

The lawsuit cites the various new requirements in law to vote, including a cumbersome process to file a provisional ballot that can be counted only with a trip to the county clerk to produce required ID.

The lawsuit argues that Amendment 51, the nominal justification for the new law, was meant to make it easier to vote, not harder and thus the law isn’t germane. The suit notes:

Nowhere in Amendment 51 (prior to Act 633) did the Amendment require qualified voters to provide photo identification similar to the “verification of voter registration” requirement contained in Act 633. In fact, Section 6 provides that Arkansas citizens can register without showing any photo identification. Section 6(a)(7)(C) provides:

If your voter registration application form is submitted by mail and you are registering for the first time, and you do not have a valid driver’s license number or Social Security number, in order to avoid the additional identification requirements upon voting for the first time you must submit with the mailed registration form: (a) a current and valid photo identification; or (b) a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government documentation that shows your name and address

Haas says he has an ID, but he refuses to present it and thus will be given only a provisional ballot that won’t count unless he subsequently presents the ID.

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The lawsuit seeks an injunction against enforcement of the law in the primary this year and asks that the statute be struck down as unconstitutional. The new law has been used in special elections already held this year.

The lawsuit was assigned to Judge Alice Gray.

Here’s the lawsuit.

And here’s the brief.