Restrictive law, one of nation's strictest, approved by Republicans after veto by Dem Governor, struck down before mid-term election...
By Brad Friedman on 10/15/2014, 3:16pm PT  

Good news for voting and democracy fans once again today...

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) --- Arkansas' highest court on Wednesday struck down a state law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, ruling the requirement unconstitutional just days before early voting begins for the Nov. 4 election.

In a decision that could have major implications in the state's election, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that determined the law unconstitutionally added a requirement for voting.

The high court noted that the Arkansas Constitution lists specific requirements to vote: that a person be a citizen of both the U.S. and Arkansas, be at least 18 years old, and be lawfully registered. Anything beyond that amounts to a new requirement and is therefore unconstitutional, the court ruled.

"These four qualifications set forth in our state's constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement," the ruling said.

AP didn't note as much, but the court's ruling was unanimous.

Michael Li of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program said in a statement following today's ruling, that it was "an important victory for the many lifelong Arkansas voters who would have been disenfranchised by one of the strictest photo ID laws in the country." He added: "Today's decision reaffirms that when it comes to voting, the Arkansas Constitution is steadfast in protecting voters."

Earlier this year a state judge declared the law "null and void" after finding in two separate court cases that it violated the state's strict protections of the right to vote. Several weeks later, the state Supreme Court nixed the judge's ruling, but failed to rule, at the time, on the state constitutionality of the law. Now they have.

The Photo ID voting restriction in Arkansas was passed in the state legislature after Republicans took over both chambers in 2013 for the first time since Reconstruction. The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, but the veto was subsequently overridden by the Republican legislature. As recently noted in a devastating opinion on the Photo ID law in WI (which is currently blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court) written by conservative icon Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, other than in Arkansas, every single strict Photo ID restriction that has been passed over the last several years has been in states where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the Governor's mansion.

As we reported in April, the Arkansas law, Act 595 [PDF], went even further than most similar laws being enacted by Republicans around the country. It requires a photocopied ID to be included with absentee ballots, as well as when voting in person. Notably, however, it does not require strict Photo ID for absentee voters. When voting by absentee ballot, the law allowed, in addition to state-issued Photo ID, for the use of "a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter."

Those allowances would not have been granted to in-person voters under the GOP voting restriction, despite the fact that absentee ballot fraud is far more prevalent than the virtually non-existent cases of polling place impersonation.

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