Arkansas Gets Permission To Enforce Voter ID Law In Primaries

The state's Supreme Court gave election authorities the green light after a lower court had blocked the law.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed the state's latest voter ID law last year.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed the state's latest voter ID law last year.

Arkansas can enforce a voter ID law in primary elections this month, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The high court will allow the law to remain in effect while it hears the state’s full appeal of a lower court decision blocking the law. This means voters will have to show a photo ID in order to vote in Arkansas’ May 22 primary ― early voting begins May 7.

The law does allow voters without acceptable identification to cast provisional ballots. But in order to get a provisional ballot counted, a voter must bring identification to their local election office by the Monday following the election.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, praised the decision.

“The Supreme Court’s prompt attention to this matter, on an emergency basis, gives the County Clerks and County Boards of Election Commissioners reassurance that the year-long preparations for the election have not been wasted,” Powell said.

Wednesday’s decision pauses an injunction from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray, who blocked the voter ID law on April 26 after it was challenged by Little Rock voter Barry Haas. She said it went beyond the specific provisions in the state constitution outlining the requirements to register to vote.

Jeff Priebe, a lawyer for Haas, said he and his client looked forward to arguing the case to the state Supreme Court when it hears the full appeal.

“We are disappointed for the voters in Arkansas that the Arkansas Secretary of State and the Attorney General continue to want to enforce an unconstitutional voter ID law,” Priebe wrote in an email.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed the voter ID requirement into law in 2017, even though the law closely resembles a measure that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2014. 

Lawyers for Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) and other state election officials immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court after Gray’s ruling, asking them to move quickly to block the injunction. 

Four of the seven justices who voted to strike down the 2014 version of the state’s voter ID law are no longer on the Arkansas Supreme Court. The three justices who remain had found at the time that the law was invalid because it didn’t get the votes of two-thirds of the state Legislature, which is required to change voting qualifications in the state constitution.

The 2017 bill, meanwhile, passed the Arkansas House 74-21 and the state Senate 25-8.

A separate proposal to add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution will be on the ballot this fall.

This story has been updated with comment from Jeff Priebe.

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