Arkansas Supreme Court upholds 4 voting restriction laws News
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Arkansas Supreme Court upholds 4 voting restriction laws

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld four voting restriction laws passed in 2021. The laws were challenged for violating five provisions of the Arkansas Constitution.

Arkansas law already required county clerks to find sufficient similarity in the signatures of the absentee ballot application and the voter registration. Act 736 replaced “voter registration” with “voter registration application.” Act 973 moved the deadline for in-person absentee ballot delivery from the day before the election day to the Friday before election day. Act 249 removed an alternative to the Arkansas constitutional requirement of presenting a “valid photographic identification” before voting. The alternative was for the voter to give a sworn statement that “the voter registered to vote in this state and that he or she is the person registered to vote.” Act 728 prohibits a person from “enter[ing] or remain[ing] in an area within one hundred feet (100′) of the primary exterior entrance to a building where voting is taking place except for a person entering or leaving a building where voting is taking place for lawful purposes.”

The laws were challenged for violating the “equality before the law” in Article 2, Section 3 of the Arkansas Constitution. The court rejected the challenge because the acts are “facially neutral” and have no “discriminatory classifications.”

The laws were also challenged for violating the “right of suffrage” clause in Article 3, Section 2 of the constitution. The court has traditionally interpreted the clause to mean to protect voters from voter fraud and voter intimidation. So, the court found that for Acts 736 and 973, Act 249 and Act 728 respectively, “Article 3, section 2, of the Arkansas Constitution does not confer a constitutionally protected right to absentee voting, voting without identification, or the right to ‘support’ while waiting in line to vote.”

The third challenge was that Acts 736 and 973 contradict the voter qualification requirements in Article 3, Section 1 of the state constitution. The court recognized that law cannot add voter qualifications beyond those in Article 3, Section 1. However, it found those acts do not add new voter qualifications because the acts do not add conditions for “who is qualified to vote.”

Act 249 was challenged for violating the state constitution’s Amendment 51, section 19, which allows amendments to “Sections 5 through 15 of [Amendment 51], so long as such amendments are germane to [Amendment 51], and consistent with its policy and purposes.” The court rejects the challenge because “Act 249 … provides a way for poll workers to ensure that the person voting is the person who has registered to vote.”

The last challenge was for Act 728 violating the right to free speech and free assembly protected in Article 2, Sections 4 and 6 of the Arkansas Constitution and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The court highlights that the US Supreme Court “upheld a content-based restriction on speech within one hundred feet of a polling place under strict scrutiny.” So, the court rejected the last challenge.

Central to the court’s holding is that “while the right to vote has been held to be fundamental, the right to vote in a particular manner is not guaranteed.”