LITTLE ROCK — Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has shown an "obvious bias" against Arkansas’ new voter ID law, the state Republican Party claims in a court filing seeking to intervene in a lawsuit stemming from controversy over the law.
McDaniel, a Democrat, said Thursday the issue is not a partisan matter.
The state GOP has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit the Pulaski County Election Commission and Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane filed March 12 against the state Board of Election Commissioners. The lawsuit challenges the board’s policy on how absentee ballots should be handled under Act 595 of 2103, the law requiring Arkansas voters to show photo ID at the polls.
The suit alleges that the board exceeded its authority when it adopted an emergency rule last month stating that if a voter submits an absentee ballot without a copy of the voter’s identification, the ballot should be treated as a provisional ballot and the voter should be given until noon on the Monday after the election to submit ID and have the ballot counted.
The emergency rule is at odds with an advisory opinion Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued last month. The attorney general said he believes Act 595 provides a "cure period" only for in-person voters who fail to show ID at the polls, not for absentee voters.
Pulaski County election officials chose not to allow a cure period for 76 absentee voters who failed to submit ID with their ballots in a March 11 millage election for Pulaski Technical College.
In a brief filed Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb asked that he and the party be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit. Webb argued that although Act 595 does not explicitly mention a cure period for absentee voters, Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-412(b) states:
"A voter who desires to cast an absentee ballot but who does not meet the identification requirements of subdivision (a)(2) of this section may cast his or her absentee ballot by mail, and the absentee ballot shall be considered as a provisional ballot."
That section should have given McDaniel pause before he dismissed the possibility that absentee voters could cast provisional ballots, Webb argued.
"The fact that he did so demonstrates an obvious bias against ACT 595 and voter ID laws," Webb said in a brief in support of the GOP’s motion to intervene.
Webb also argued that because the attorney general represents the board, the interests of the Republican Party and all Arkansas citizens cannot be adequately protected under the current alignment of parties in the case.
"This action therefore presents the classic example of the fox guarding the hen house," Webb said in the brief.
McDaniel said Thursday in an email, "This is not a partisan matter. This is about defending the actions of a state board, which is something my office does effectively every single day."
The state Legislature was divided along party lines over Act 595, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats largely opposing it. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the law last year, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.