Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen today dismissed the lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that a voter could request an absentee ballot for any reason without having to declare illness or “unavoidable absence” from polls.
The judge said the three plaintiffs had no standing because they had not suffered, nor faced “imminent danger of suffering any injury protected by law.”
He granted the motion by the defendant, Secretary of State John Thurston, to dismiss the suit and ruled moot an effort to intervene by the Arkansas Republican Party and Republican state Rep. Doug House.
Thurston has said it’s his opinion that a person fearful of voting in person because of COVID-19 could legitimately attest to an “unavoidable absence” on an absentee ballot application.
Plaintiffs have argued that this wasn’t sufficient protection in elections run by county election commissions. To date, Governor Hutchinson has also refused to declare no-excuse absentee voting legal as he did during the primary season. But he is in agreement that COVID-19 should constitute a valid excuse. Voters need not specify an excuse on the ballot application, only that they will be unavoidably absent.
The judge said the plaintiffs had five days to submit an amended complaint before dismissal would be final.
His opinion noted that the idea of no-excuse absentee voting appears to be protected by past Supreme Court precedent. The plaintiffs had asked for a declaratory judgment citing that opinion. They also asked that the requirements for statements to receive an absentee ballot amounted to additional unconstitutional restrictions on voting.
Thurston said the plaintiffs didn’t have standing and the issue wasn’t ripe. The judge agreed that plaintiffs had failed to state facts on which a claim for relief could be granted.
David Couch, attorney for the plaintiffs, gave me this comment:
I’m not surprised given the arguments made during our hearing on Friday.
The AG and the SOS both acknowledged that any excuse to be unavailable is good under the prior Supreme Court decision and that specifically COVID is a valid excuse. With their statements, there really is no legal controversy.
I’m glad that this litigation brought this issue to a fast resolution so that people now know that they can vote absentee in this election and all future elections without worry.