[JURIST] The Arkansas Supreme Court [official website] struck down [opinion, PDF] the state’s voter identification law [Act 595, PDF] on Wednesday, finding it unconstitutional. Act 592 required “proof of identity in the form of a voter-identification card or a document or identification card showing the voter’s name and photo issued by the United States, the State of Arkansas, or an accredited postsecondary educational institution in Arkansas with an expiration date.” The law was passed last year [JURIST report], despite a veto by Governor Mike Beebe [official website], and struck down [JURIST report] by a trial court in April. Reviewing Article 3, section 1 of the state constitution [text, PDF], the court found that Act 592’s requirement of proof of identify as a prerequisite of voting “imposes a requirement that falls outside” the four qualifications outlined in the state constitution and “to hold otherwise would disenfranchise Arkansas voters and would negate ‘the object sought to be accomplished’ by the framers of the Arkansas Constitution.” The court’s decision means the law will not be in effect for the upcoming mid-term elections.
State voter ID laws [JURIST backgrounder] have been highly contested in dozens of US states in recent years. Opponents argue that voter ID laws are an attempt by conservatives to preserve their political power through suppression of minority voters, while supporters contend such laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Earlier this week a federal appeals court ruled that Texas may enforce its voter ID law [SB 14] despite a lower judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Last week the US Supreme Court [official website] blocked [order, PDF] a similar Wisconsin voter ID law from going into effect before the upcoming election. Also in October the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website] released a a nonpartisan congressional study [JURIST report] showing that states with toughened voter ID laws have experienced steeper drops in election turnout than those that have not, including disproportionate falloffs among black and younger voters.