An Arkansas judge erred when he struck down Arkansas’ voter identification law, an official with Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office argued Thursday before the Arkansas Supreme Court. A lawyer for a group of voters challenging the law argued that the Supreme Court should uphold Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s May 2 ruling that the law imposes new qualifications for voting in Arkansas, in violation of the state constitution. The state’s highest court heard oral arguments but did not immediately issue a ruling in the state’s appeal of Fox’s ruling striking down Act 595 of 2013, which requires Arkansas voters to show photo identification at the polls. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the Republican-backed measure last year, but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto. Fox stayed his ruling pending the state’s appeal, so Act 595 was in effect for the May 20 primary election. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has said more than 1,000 ballots went uncounted in that election because of the law.
Deputy Secretary of State A.J. Kelly argued Thursday that although the state constitution sets forth four qualifications to vote — a person must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of Arkansas, at least 18 years of age and lawfully registered to vote — requiring voters to show identification at the polls does not add to that list.
“It is simply a verification of registration. It’s a mechanism to make sure that you do meet those four qualifications, but it is not an additional qualification to vote,” he said.
Kelly argued that the state constitution does not specify a method of conducting elections and that Fox lacked authority to strike down legislatively approved election procedures.
He asked the court to the case back to circuit court for a trial on the merits, which he said were not reached in the May 2 hearing because that hearing addressed a motion by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction.
Justice Paul Danielson said it appeared that Fox had gone beyond issuing a preliminary injunction and ruled that Act 595 is unconstitutional.