Brian Chilson
MIREYA REITH: Seeking to help voters. (file photo)

A federal lawsuit filed Monday seeks to prevent enforcement of the Arkansas statute that prevents people from assisting more than six voters.

The Mexican American Legal  Defense and Educational Fund, represented by Lawrence Walker, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Arkansas United, an immigrant rights group headed by Mireya Reith. It says the law disenfranchises voters who are not proficient in English. There are a limited number of people able to assist such voters and the lawsuit says the group has been warned of prosecution if they assist more than six voters.

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The 1965 Voting Rights Act allows voters to bring a person of their choice to assist them in casting a ballot so long as the person isn’t an employer or union representative. The suit argues that the state limit violates federal law and it asks for a temporary restraining order to prevent the prosecution of those who help more than six voters.

Arkansas United was founded in 2010 and is based in Springdale, home to a substantial number of Hispanic people.

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Here’s the lawsuit.

The state has served notice of opposition to the lawsuit. No hearing has been set.

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From the news release on the suit:

“All Arkansas voters should have the right to receive any assistance or assistant they desire in exercising the franchise,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Unnecessary impediments to this right cheapen our democracy by blocking legitimate participation by some state-disfavored voters.”

 

Attorneys also claim that the Arkansas restrictions harm Arkansas United by causing the organization to divert resources away from its other critical work in order to find additional assistors for limited English-proficient voters. Further, the complaint says, the Arkansas restrictions injure the organization by subjecting its employees, including executive director Mireya Reith, to criminal prosecution and fines if they assist more than six voters and prohibit the organization from fulfilling its mission of assisting limited English proficient voters in casting a ballot.

The request for a restraining order says Reith and others in her organization hope to assist more than six voters today but face criminal prosecution if they do.

Laws putting restrictions on assistance have been struck down in other states, the suit notes.

The state Board of Election Commissioners has ordered county election commissions to enforce the rules and the Sebastian County Election Commission has already told Arkansas United that it could not set up a table to assist voters near the Elm Grove community center in Fort Smith.

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