Court Strikes Down Arkansas Voter ID Law

Voters line up outside precinct W25 in Cape Fear Community College's T Building before the polls open Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012 in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/The Star-News, Paul Stephen)
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ highest court on Wednesday struck down a state law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, ruling the requirement unconstitutional just days before early voting begins for the Nov. 4 election.

In a decision that could have major implications in the state’s election, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that determined the law violated theArkansas Constitution by adding an additional requirement before voting. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox struck down the law in May but suspended his ruling while it was being appealed.

Arkansas is among a handful of states where voter ID requirements have been in limbo. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed new restrictions to take effect in North Carolina but blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID requirement.

Arkansas’ law was challenged in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center on behalf of four voters they said would be disenfranchised by the requirement.

Wednesday’s ruling could have major implications for Arkansas’ election, with early voting set to begin Monday. The state’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, is one of the most heated in the country, and the GOP views the seat as key in their bid to win control of that chamber.

The Republican-led Legislature approved the voter ID law last year, overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, and it took effect Jan. 1.

Fox initially found the law unconstitutional in a separate case in April that focused on absentee ballots. The state Supreme Court tossed out that decision, saying the judge didn’t have the authority to address the law’s constitutionality in that case.

Under previous law, election workers were required to ask for photo ID but voters didn’t have to show it to cast a ballot. Under the new law, voters who don’t show photo identification can cast provisional ballots. Those ballots are counted only if voters provide ID to county election officials before noon on the Monday after an election, and sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.

Thirty-one states have laws in effect that require voters to show some form of identification before casting a ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven other states have photo ID requirements in effect as strict as Arkansas ‘ law.

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Associated Press writer Jill Bleed contributed to this report from Little Rock.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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