Updated 

May 2 hearing set in voter ID law


LITTLE ROCK — A judge on Wednesday scheduled a May 2 hearing to consider motions in a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Wednesday also was the final day for attorneys to file briefs in a separate lawsuit over how absentee ballots should be handled under the law.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox scheduled a hearing in a lawsuit alleging that Act 595 of 2013, which took effect Jan. 1, unconstitutionally burdens voters by subjecting them to requirements that go beyond the requirements set forth in the Arkansas Constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Arkansas Law Center filed the suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court last week on behalf of four Arkansas voters. This week, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to bar enforcement of the law before the May 20 primary and nonpartisan election.

Secretary of State Mark Martin, who is named as a defendant in the suit, filed a motion this week asking Fox to accelerate the timetable for discovery in the case.

Meanwhile, the Pulaski County Election Commission alleges in a lawsuit, also before Fox, that the state Board of Election Commissioners exceeded its authority when it adopted rules stating that voters who fail to submit proof of identification with absentee ballots, as required under Act 595, should be given a “cure period” to correct the problem.

The commission argued in a filing last week that Fox should grant summary judgment in its favor because Act 595 does not explicitly provide a cure period for absentee voters.

“An administrative agency cannot override or amend legislation by adopting rules. This is a violation of the Separation of Powers Doctrine,” the commission argued.

The Board of Election Commissioners argued in a filing last week that it should be granted summary judgment because under Arkansas law, it is authorized to “formulate, adopt and promulgate all necessary rules to assure … fair and orderly election procedures,” which it said is what it did in addressing the question of what to do about absentee ballots not accompanied by ID.

The state Republican Party, an intervenor in the case, also argued in a filing last week that the board acted within its authority.

In a response filed Wednesday, the board argued that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring their suit.

“The plaintiffs … have not alleged that they are absentee voters who will be arbitrarily treated worse than similarly situated voters,” the board said in its response.

The commission said in a response filed Wednesday that “for the SBEC to enact rules that are contrary to statutes in an effort to allow otherwise unqualified voters to vote is not the proper method to address the perceived problem.”

The state GOP said in its response Wednesday that the plaintiffs “fail to understand the scope of the state board’s rulemaking authority and that it can do more than adopting rote regulations that simply repeat what is already in statutory law.”

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the legislation that became Act 595 during the 2013 legislative session, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode the veto.