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Four Arkansas laws regulating voting will stay in place

Writing for the majority, Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Cody Hiland said four voting laws do not violate the state Constitution.

The Supreme Court of Arkansas on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling in a lawsuit challenging four new voting laws.

The League of Women Voters of Arkansas and Arkansas United brought a lawsuit against the four laws passed in 2021. Among many things, the laws make it slightly harder to vote absentee or without a state photo ID.

On March 24, 2022, a lower court granted a permanent injunction against the laws, meaning they were halted from being enforced. On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed that decision.

The majority opinion was written by Associate Justice Cody Hiland, a former federal prosecutor who was recently appointed to the high court by Gov. Sarah Sanders after leading the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Arkansas voters who do not have a state ID once had the option of instead providing a sworn statement when voting. Act 249 does away with this exception, forcing voters to present ID at the polls.

Act 728 prevents loitering around polling places, requiring all those who aren't at a polling place for “lawful purposes” to stand at least 100 feet away. This applies to volunteers distributing water to those waiting in line to vote.

County clerks have to cross-reference signatures with the voter's application under Act 736. Act 973 changes the deadline for in-person absentee ballots; Arkansans must submit them by the Friday before Election Day and not the Monday before, as was customary.

The League of Women Voters argued the laws violated constitutional rights to vote. They said it would make it difficult for voters to obtain an absentee ballot, and “disenfranchise” voters.

Justice Hiland disagreed. Writing for the majority, he said “absentee voting is not a fundamental right.” He said restrictions on absentee voting are perfectly legal, and that the laws did not discriminate because he did not see any discriminatory impact. He said restrictions in the laws apply "equally to every qualified voter.”

The Arkansas Constitution calls for elections to be “free and equal.” Hiland said the laws don't violate that principle.

“A free and equal election in Arkansas has long been understood to be one in which qualified voters can vote in accordance with rules and processes established by the legislature," the opinion reads.

Hiland said the 100 feet rule is also not a violation of anyone's rights. He said the suit showed “no evidence that giving water and other comfort to persons waiting to enter polling places caused disruptions.”

Hiland was appointed to the bench in July of last year after the death of Associate Justice Robin Wynne. Chief Justice John Dan Kemp, Associate Justice Barbara Womack Webb and Associate Justice Shawn A. Womack concurred with Hiland in his opinion.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.