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ACLU asks Arkansas Supreme Court to uphold ruling striking down state's new voter ID law

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas asked the state's highest court on Monday to uphold a judge's ruling that found Arkansas' new voter identification law unconstitutional.

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin had appealed the ruling from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, who struck down the law in May. In court papers submitted Monday with the Arkansas Supreme Court, attorneys opposed to the law urged justices to uphold Fox's decision.

Also Monday, a friend-of-the-court brief was submitted by Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, arguing that the law, known as Act 595, is unconstitutional. Similar briefs were also turned in by several groups, including law professors and social justice groups, but the high court hasn't yet ruled on whether it will accept such amicus briefs in the case.

"Arkansas law provided a sufficient means of preventing voter fraud prior to the passage of Act 595 through the voter registration process and the verification of voter registration information at the polls," Crane's brief said. "Act 595 is overreaching and unnecessary, in addition to creating an additional voter qualification and impairing the right the vote."

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Arkansas and the Arkansas Public Law Center on behalf of four voters, challenges the new requirement that was approved by lawmakers last year over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto.

In the ACLU's court filing, attorneys cited previous Arkansas Supreme Court rulings that struck down certain voting requirements, including an 1865 decision that threw out a law requiring that voters sign an oath saying they hadn't aided confederate authorities after 1864, and various decisions regarding poll taxes.

"In each of these decisions ... the Arkansas Supreme Court has fiercely guarded the right to vote from any interference by the Legislature," the brief said.

Fox suspended his ruling in May, meaning the law was in effect during the May 20 primary election and the June runoff election. The ACLU has asked Fox to lift that stay, saying more than 1,000 voters had been disenfranchised because of the requirement. Fox has not yet ruled on the request.

Last month, Martin's office asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to overturn Fox's ruling that found the law unconstitutional, saying that the voters named in the lawsuit didn't prove that they would be harmed by the new requirement. The appeal also argued that the voter ID did not impose a new qualification for voters.

"The proof of identity requirement is nothing more than a regulation pertaining to an existing voting qualification," the appeal filed by Martin's office read. "It does not restrict the right to vote nor does it add a qualification to vote. Verifying a registration is not impermissible; to the contrary, it is essential to the integrity of the election process."

The next major election in Arkansas is the Sept. 16 school board elections, followed by the Nov. 4 general election.


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