LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ highest court on Wednesday said the state can enforce a voter ID law in the May 22 primary election despite a judge declaring the measure unconstitutional.
By a vote of 6-1, the Supreme Court put on hold a Pulaski County judge’s decision blocking the law’s enforcement. Early voting for the primary begins Monday. The state Supreme Court did not elaborate on its reasons for the decision in its one-page order.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray last week ruled the law was an unconstitutional effort to reinstate a 2013 voter ID law. That 2013 measure was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2014.
“We now have clear direction from the Court that the law we have been operating under since last August remains in effect for the Primary Election, until further orders from the Supreme Court,” said Chris Powell, a spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, who had requested the ruling.
The high court’s ruling puts Gray’s decision on hold while justices consider the state’s appeal of her decision against the voter ID measure. Both sides are set to begin filing briefs in the appeal next month.
“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,” Jeff Priebe, an attorney for the Little Rock voter who challenged the measure, said in an email. “We look forward to presenting the whole case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.”
The revived voter ID law requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. Unlike the previous measure, the new law allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities.
“I am very pleased that the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the arguments we made on behalf of the State Board of Election Commissioners that the requirement that a voter show photographic identification or sign a statement affirming his or her identity as a registered voter is not burdensome and helps ensure free and fair elections,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. “The stay issued this afternoon provides needed clarity for Arkansas voters and election officials.”
The state Supreme Court in 2014 unanimously struck down the previous voter ID law, with a majority of the court ruling it unconstitutionally added a qualification to vote. Three justices, however, ruled the measure didn’t get the two-thirds vote needed to change voter registration requirements. A majority of the court’s seats have changed hands since the previous law was struck down, and lawmakers approved the latest measure with more than two-thirds support in both chambers of the Legislature.
Republicans are even more firmly in control of the state since the last law was enacted, with the GOP holding all of Arkansas’ statewide and federal offices. The new law was one of two steps the majority-Republican Legislature took last year to revive the voter ID requirement. Lawmakers also voted to put a proposed constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot that would further enshrine the voter ID requirement in Arkansas law.