For the second time in eight days, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Friday that an Arkansas law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is unconstitutional. Judge Tim Fox also stayed his order, leaving the law in effect. He noted that the state Supreme Court has stayed his April 24 ruling striking down Act 595 pending an appeal. The judge said he stayed his latest ruling for the sake of consistency because an appeal is “inevitable” and there is no time for the Supreme Court to decide whether to issue a new stay before early voting in the May 20 primary election begins Monday. “I’m not going to throw thousands of precincts into turmoil,” Fox said. Fox issued his latest ruling in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center on behalf of four Arkansas voters. He agreed with the plaintiffs that Act 595 imposes qualifications to vote in Arkansas that improperly go beyond the qualifications set forth in the Arkansas Constitution.
Fox rejected arguments by lawyers for the state attorney general’s office and the secretary of state’s office that the law does not impose new qualifications to vote. Senior Assistant Attorney General Joseph Cordi Jr. argued that the law is “only a procedural mechanism” to ensure that voters are registered and are who they say they are.
The judge said the state Legislature has the authority to change the qualifications for voter registration, provided it does so with a at least a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers, but that did not happen with Act 595. He also said that demanding something of voters at the polls — government-issued photo identification — that was not required of them when they registered to vote impairs their fundamental right to vote.