A Pulaski County judge’s decision to strike down Arkansas’ voter ID law complicates planning for a primary that would have been the first statewide test of new voting restrictions, and reopens a debate that Democrats and Republicans both see as having an upside in this fall’s election. Ruling in a case that had focused on a narrow portion of the law, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox declared the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls “void and unenforceable” after saying it violates Arkansas’ constitution. His ruling was issued just a week and a half before early voting begins for Arkansas’ May 20 primary. It’s a case that will ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, he provided fodder for Democrats and Republicans alike to revive their arguments over the voter ID law that was approved last year. Just how much of a boost both parties hope to see from the ruling was immediately clear. Within an hour of Fox’s decision, state Democrats were fundraising off of his ruling.
“With your help, we can make sure Republicans who voted for this unconstitutional law are defeated in November,” Candace Martin, the state party’s executive director, wrote in an email.
A Republican lawmaker vying for his party’s nomination for a south Arkansas congressional seat also jumped on the news, quickly issuing a statement condemning Fox’s ruling. “The integrity of the ballot box is the bedrock of our republican system,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, who was the top Republican in the House when it approved the measure last year. Westerman is running against Tommy Moll in the GOP primary for the 4th Congressional District.
The upcoming voter ID fight largely mirrors what the Legislature saw last year, when the Republican-led House and Senate approved the new restriction. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the measure, but was overridden by both chambers with a simple majority vote. At the time, Beebe called the legislation an expensive solution in search of a problem.