As of this morning, no developments in federal court in western Arkansas on the League of Women Voters lawsuit to add a measure of due process protection for people who vote absentee.
The League has asked a court to order a “cure” period in which those who vote absentee are notified their ballot has been rejected over a signature match issue, just as they can clear up questions about voter ID. Otherwise, a voter could be disallowed over a change in a signature over the years and the voter would never know.
Seems reasonable to fix this, since there’s already a cure period for IDs. But the election law isn’t meant to be reasonable. It was crafted by Republicans to suppress as many votes as possible, particularly among the poor and minorities.
It was called to my attention that this issue was addressed in an earlier court case. In that 2018 case, Circuit Judge Alice Gray struck down the voter ID law as an unconstitutional new restriction on voting. The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed her. But in the course of that opinion, while upholding voter ID the Supreme Court was silent on portions of Judge Gray’s ruling directed at other flaws in absentee voting rules.
Her opinion noted that the only flaw in an absentee ballot that may be cured after election day is the lack of a voter ID, which a voter has 10 days to supply. Other problems may not be corrected, such as a signature match or other discrepancy in the ballot application. She wrote:
The end result is that Plaintiff, or a similar voter who is legally-registered to vote and who meets the qualifications to vote in Arkansas, is disenfranchised without any real remedy to challenge his disenfranchisement, such as an appropriate hearing. The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.
The Arkansas Supreme Court didn’t address that finding in upholding the voter ID rule. Might it still apply?
Judge Gray’s rulings also talked about the widespread confusion about another element of the new ID law. Absentee voters need not supply a photo ID if they sign an optional attestation that they are who they say they are. But the ballot application calls this provision optional. If it is not signed by those thinking they’ve supplied proper ID, but have not, their vote may be lost. Her opinion talks at length of the confusing and sometimes incorrect information provided by voter officials, such as the secretary of state’s office.
Voting should be simpler, not harder. More people should vote, not fewer. That is not the view of the prevailing political power in Arkansas.
Now would be a good time for Governor Hutchinson to allow counting of absentee ballots to begin early and also to extend the counting of ballots received with a postmark by election day through the end of the 10-day provisional ballot cure period. We can dream, can’t we?
UPDATE: Plaintiffs in the federal case have filed a motion for preliminary injunction and supporting arguments. Their specific request for relief: