LITTLE ROCK – Last year the legislature enacted a series of new election laws, and four of them were challenged in court by plaintiffs who argued that they restricted voting rights.
In March the four new laws were stricken by a circuit judge after a trial of four days. He ruled that they were unconstitutional and he issued an injunction ordering that they not be enforced.
In defending the new voting laws the state attorney general filed an urgent appeal at the state Supreme Court.
In April the Supreme Court overturned the lower court injunction. The result, for now, is that the four new voting laws will apply when Arkansas citizens vote in the May 24 primary elections.
These are the four laws under challenge:
Act 249 repeals a previous section of the law that allowed voters to sign an affidavit at their polling place if they didn't bring a photo ID.
Under Act 249, if voters fail to show an ID, they must cast a provisional ballot and in order for their votes to be counted they must show an ID to the county board of election commissioners or the county clerk by noon on the Monday following the election.
Act 728 prohibits people from entering or remaining in an area within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting site while voting is taking place. An exception allows people to enter or leave the building for "lawful purposes."
Proponents of the bill said it aims to prevent voter intimidation, electioneering activities and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, while objectors said it was overly broad and could prevent nonprofits from distributing food and water.
Act 736 changes the rules for voting with absentee ballots. It states that possession of more than four absentee ballots is presumed to be election fraud. Previously, possessing 10 or more absentee ballots was presumed to be proof of election fraud.
Act 736 also requires county clerks to provide the county board of election commissioners with a daily count of absentee ballot applications.
A controversial provision in Act 736 directs county clerks to compare signatures on applications for absentee ballots with signatures on the applicant's voter registration document.
If the signatures don't match, the clerk will not send an absentee ballot to the applicant. Plaintiffs argued that a person's signature changes over the years, especially if they get arthritis.
Act 973 moves the deadline when absentee ballots must be turned in to the county clerk, from Monday, the day before the election, to the preceding Friday, before the final weekend of the election season.
One new law that is not being challenged is Act 128, which requires the Secretary of State's office to post sample ballots on an Internet site.
If you do an Internet search for "Arkansas Voter View," the site operated by the Secretary of State site will be the first in the list of links. You have to submit information such as your name and date of birth.
If you're registered to vote your name will appear, along with the address of your polling place and a list of early voting sites. At the bottom of the page are pdf files that can be opened to show sample ballots.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.