Arkansas court hears challenge over reworked voter ID law

Legal Issues

An Arkansas attorney told state's highest court on Thursday it should strike down a law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, saying the measure circumvents a 2014 ruling against a nearly identical voter ID requirement.

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments from the state, which is defending the law, and Jeff Priebe, who represents a Little Rock voter challenging the measure as unconstitutional. Justices in May halted a state judge's ruling preventing Arkansas from enforcing the voter ID law, keeping it in place while they consider the case.

The high court in 2014 struck down a previous version of the voter ID law as unconstitutional. The revived voter ID law, which was approved last year, requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. Unlike the previous measure, the new law allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities.

"It's closing the ballot booth doors," Priebe said during the roughly hour-long hearing.

Arkansas officials argue the new law complies with part of the Supreme Court's ruling striking down the 2013 measure. Justices in 2014 unanimously struck down the previous voter ID law, with a majority of the court ruling it unconstitutionally added a qualification to vote. Three justices, however, ruled the measure didn't get the two-thirds vote needed to change voter registration requirements. A majority of the court has changed hands since that ruling, and more than two-thirds of the House and Senate approved the new measure last year.

Deputy Secretary of State A.J. Kelly told the justices the lower court "has usurped the power of the Legislature to amend the Constitution" by blocking the law. "A single man has a driver's license and refuses to show it to vote, and he alone has put a constitutional amendment in jeopardy," Kelly said.

Justices did not indicate when they would rule. If they strike the law, it wouldn't affect a separate proposal on the ballot in November that would put a voter ID requirement in the state's constitution.

The court is considering the case weeks before voters head to the polls in an election where national Democrats are trying to flip a Little Rock-area congressional seat currently held by a Republican. Justice Courtney Goodson, who wrote the concurring opinion four years ago citing the two-thirds vote as the reason for striking the previous law, is seeking re-election in November in a race that has already drawn heavy spending from conservative groups opposing her bid.

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