LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas resident asked a judge Wednesday to strike down a new state law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, arguing the measure causes the same problems as a nearly identical state voter ID law struck down four years ago. The lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court is challenging the measure’s constitutionality ahead of its first enforcement statewide in Arkansas’ May 22 primary. Early voting for the primary is set to begin May 7.
Barry Haas, a Little Rock resident who is suing the state over the measure, was one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Arkansas’ previous voter ID law being struck down in 2014. An attorney for Haas said lawmakers are trying to circumvent that ruling by amending a portion of the state’s constitution dealing with voter registration.
“Amendment 51 was an avenue to open up the voting booth to all people,” attorney Jeff Priebe said. “Now with this new amendment they’re trying to close the doors on the voting booth.”
In a separate filing, Priebe asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent the measure from being enforced in the upcoming primary.
The revived voter ID law was passed by the Legislature and signed into law last year. It’s aimed at addressing an argument by some state Supreme Court justices that the 2013 law didn’t receive enough votes in the Legislature to be enacted. The court’s majority ruled the law violated Arkansas’ constitution by adding a new requirement before voting.
Four of the justices who struck down the 2013 law are no longer on the court, and one of the new justices is a former Republican state legislator. The three justices who said the 2013 law didn’t get the two-thirds vote needed to change voter registration requirements remain on the court.
Thirty-four states have laws requiring or requesting voters show some form of voter ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arkansas’ new law took effect in August and has been enforced in several local elections. The May primary is the first statewide election where the measure will be enforced since it was enacted last year.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not have an immediate comment on the filing Wednesday morning. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement he hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but continued to support the voter ID measure, which he signed into law.
The new law was one of two efforts approved by the Legislature last year to revive the voter ID requirement. Lawmakers also voted to put a proposed constitutional amendment imposing the requirement on the November ballot.
Arkansas’ law says voters can show one of several types of photo identification, including driver’s licenses, concealed handgun licenses, a U.S. passport or an ID issued by a college in the state.
The law requires election officials to provide photo identification to voters free of charge if they don’t have any other photo ID. It also allows voters without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identity.