Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ACLU of Arkansas files suit over voter I.D. law

Posted By on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Lawyer of record Jeff R. Priebe, ACLU director Rita Sklar, ACLU lawyer Holly Dickson.
  • Lawyer of record Jeff R. Priebe, ACLU director Rita Sklar, ACLU lawyer Holly Dickson.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center filed a  lawsuit in state court today on behalf of four plaintiffs seeking to overturn the state's voter I.D. law as violating the state constitution. 

The legislature passed Act 595, over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto, in 2013, requiring a photo I.D. Voter I.D. laws are a Republican don't-get-out-the-vote move to keep persons likely to vote Democratic — the handicapped, the poor, the elderly, etc. — away from the polls. You can't get away with a poll tax anymore, so the GOP came up with the next best thing, and only the most naive could believe the law was created out of a desire to clean up voter fraud. Remember what Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai said when he was listing the accomplishments of that state's legislature? "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

The suit cites the Arkansas constitution, which says:

Elections shall be free and equal. No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage; nor shall any law be enacted whereby such right shall be impaired or forfeited, except for the commission of a felony, upon lawful conviction thereof.

To vote, an Arkansas citizen must now be in possession of a I.D. card issued by the federal government, the state or an accredited postsecondary school in Arkansas. Don't have a car? No longer driving? Aren't in the military? Aren't in school? Not a world traveler equipped with a passport? Don't work for the state? Maybe your nursing home director will go to the trouble of getting a document attesting that you are who you are. (Or maybe not.) Or maybe you can get a friend to haul you over to a motor vehicle department to get a photo I.D., or you can come up with bus fare after you figure out where to go. Have a religious objection to being photographed? Get an affidavit and take it to the County Board of Election Commissioners.

Plaintiffs in the suit are Freedom Kohls, Toylanda Smith and Joe Flakes, who do not possess photo I.D.s, and Barry Haas, who has one but declined to show it at the polls at an election this year and was required to cast a provisional ballot, which was not counted in the election results. Defendants are Secretary of State Mark Martin and the members of the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Kohls is a 34-year-old Hurricane Katrina refugee who lost all her possessions, including her ID, in the storm. Smith has had trouble navigating the system to get a photo I.D., which is required to get a birth certificate. Flakes is 78 and was never issued a birth certificate because he was delivered by a midwife who did not properly record his birth; he'd have to go to court to get a birth certificate. You can read more about the plaintiffs  here. At a press conference in front of the Pulaski County Courthouse this afternoon, ACLU director Rita Sklar called the right to vote fundamental and the "great equalizer" that gives the same weight of opinion at the polls to all. She said voter impersonation was not a problem; the law only serves to make it harder for "the poor, the disabled, the elderly, people of color" to vote: "This law stands between qualified voters and the ballot box."  ACLU lawyer Holly Dickson noted that the new law also requires that the name on the voter I.D. match the name the voter registered under, which create hurdles for women who taken their husband's name since registering and whose I.D. reflects the name.

Sklar and Dickson said it was their experience in meeting people across the state that most people do not know the law exists.  Here is the Secretary of State's application instructions to obtain a photo I.D.)

The complaint has been assigned to Judge Tim Fox's court. The suit asks Fox to enjoin the state from requiring a voter I.D.; the ACLU would like to see him act before the May 20 primary. The deadline to register to vote is Monday, April 21. If Fox does not issue an injunction but rules after the primary that the state law is unconstitutional, disenfranchised voters could sue to nullify the results of the election. 

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