LITTLE ROCK — A Pulaski County circuit judge on Thursday struck down Arkansas’ law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Judge Tim Fox said Act 595 of 2013 is unconstitutional because it adds additional qualifications for voters beyond those stated in the Arkansas Constitution.
Fox issued the ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Pulaski County Election Commission that challenged the state Board of Election Commissioners’ rules on how absentee ballots should be treated under Act 595. Fox declared the rules void, but he also said that upon reading the entire voter ID law, he found it to be void and unenforceable as well.
"Act 595 of 2013 is unconstitutional as it unconstitutionally impairs the right of suffrage guaranteed in Article 3, Section 2 of the Arkansas Constitution," Fox wrote in an order filed late Thursday afternoon.
The state attorney general’s office said Thursday it would appeal the decision.
"The state Board of Election Commissioners has already contacted us requesting an appeal and we will work as quickly as possible on the board’s behalf to appeal this decision," said Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, chairman of the state Board of Election Commissioners, said Martin had no immediate comment.
Christopher Burks, a member of the Pulaski County Election Commission, praised the ruling.
"This is a great decision that ensures Arkansas elections are free, fair and equal," Burks said. "I’m proud of the Pulaski County Election Commission for doing what was right. The Pulaski County action forced the court to reach the legal issues involved and strike down the voter ID law."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center filed a separate lawsuit earlier this month alleging that Act 595, which took effect Jan. 1, is unconstitutional, but Fox issued his ruling in the lawsuit over absentee ballots.
State Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored the legislation that became Act 595, said the ruling was "pretty shocking."
"This seems to me out of bounds," he said. "I don’t know why he’s ruling today on this on the whole act. I thought it was just supposed to be the rulemaking (on absentee ballots). It seems like there’s something odd going on."
King said Fox issued the ruling before the attorney general’s office had a chance to present a defense of Act 595 in the lawsuit that alleged the law was unconstitutional.
The parties in both lawsuits had asked Fox — the judge in both cases — for an accelerated timetable because of the proximity to the next election. Early voting begins May 5 for Arkansas’ May 20 primary and nonpartisan elections.
On Wednesday, Fox scheduled a May 2 hearing in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Arkansas Law Center.
Act 595 divided the state Legislature along party lines, with opponents, largely Democrats, saying it unconstitutionally burdened voters and supporters, largely Republicans, saying it would prevent voter fraud.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the law during last year’s legislative session, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.