LITTLE ROCK — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Arkansas’ law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
The suit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of four Arkansas voters, alleges that Act 595 of 2103 violates the Arkansas Constitution by imposing requirements on voting that go beyond the requirements established in the constitution and impairing the rights of Arkansans to vote.
"People who have been qualified to vote their entire adult lives are now being blocked from doing so by this unnecessary and unconstitutional law," Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. "The Arkansas Constitution specifically outlines the qualifications needed to vote. The state should be ashamed of making it harder for eligible voters from exercising this most fundamental right than our own constitution requires."
State Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored Act 595, said the law addresses voter fraud.
"Requiring someone to present a photo ID is not shameful," he said. "You have to do it to get on an airplane. You have to do it at a lot of basic functions that we operate in everyday life. Is it shameful that we have do require this for people that get on an airplane? That’s ridiculous."
Aaron Sadler, spokesman for state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said Wednesday, "We just received a copy of the lawsuit and are reviewing it. We anticipate that we will continue our defense of the state Election Commission with regard to this Act."
The suit cites Article 3, Section 1 of the state constitution, which states that a voter in Arkansas must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of Arkansas, at least 18 years of age and lawfully registered to vote.
Those are "the only legal qualifications for a voter in Arkansas" established in the state constitution, the suit states.
Act 595, which took effect Jan. 1, requires voters to show photo ID at the polls and submit proof of identification, not necessarily a photo, when voting by absentee ballot. If a voter fails to show photo ID when voting in person, the ballot is treated as a provisional ballot and the voter is given until noon on the Monday after the election to show ID so the ballot can be counted.
"By its passage, the Arkansas General Assembly has added, pursuant to Act 595, new and unconstitutional qualifications for Arkansas residents to vote in the State of Arkansas in violation of Article 3, section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution," the suit states.
The suit also alleges that Act 595 violates Article 3, Section 2 of the state constitution, which states, "Elections shall be free and equal. No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage; nor shall any law be enacted whereby such right shall be impaired or forfeited, except for the commission of a felony, upon lawful conviction thereof."
Named as defendants in the suit are Secretary of State Mark Martin and other members of the state Board of Election Commissioners. The plaintiffs are voters Freedom Kohls, Toylanda Smith, Joe Flakes and Barry Haas.
Kohls is a Hurricane Katrina survivor who lost her ID along with the rest of her positions in that disaster. Haas declined to show photo ID to poll workers in an election earlier this year and cast a provisional ballot that went uncounted.
The suit seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions blocking enforcement of the law, a declaration that the law is unconstitutional and void, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Act 595 is involved in another lawsuit the Pulaski County Election Commission filed last month in Pulaski County Circuit Court. The commission is challenging the state Board of Election Commissioners’ decision to adopt rules stating that absentee voters who fail to submit ID should be given the same "cure period" as in-person voters who fail to show photo ID, an issue that Act 595 does not explicitly address.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the legislation that became Act 595 during last year’s legislative session, saying he believed it was unconstitutional, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.