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Lawsuit challenges Arkansas voter registration rules

Get Loud Arkansas hosted a rally outside the state Capitol on April 23, 2024 to protest the rule change.
Sonny Albarado
Arkansas Advocate
Get Loud Arkansas hosted a rally outside the state Capitol on April 23, 2024 following the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners’ decision to limit the use of electronic signatures on voter registration applications.

A local group is suing over a rule regarding how voter registrations are done in the state.

Get Loud Arkansas created a website allowing people to register to vote online. In April, an Arkansas legislative committee moved to prevent this process from being used, saying applications now need to have a “wet signature.” This means voter applications must be filled out in person and only at certain state agencies. The rule change was approved by the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners a week later.

GLA is suing along with plaintiffs Nickki Pastor and Trinity “Blake” Loper, both 18-year-olds whose voter registrations were rejected since they filled out their paperwork online. The suit is against the commissioner of the State Board of Elections, Secretary of State John Thurston and several county clerks. Get Loud Arkansas says the rule violates the rights of minority voters in a state with consistently low voter turnout.

The suit argus the state's voting rules are limited and do not require a “wet signature.” In Arkansas, voters only have to be 18, an Arkansas resident and legally registered to vote.

“Absent constitutional amendment, state and county election officials may not “impose a requirement that falls outside the ambit of article 3, section 1, of the Arkansas Constitution,” the suit says.

Amendment 51 of the Arkansas Constitution also describes the rules for voting procedures

“The mail voter registration application form may only require identifying information, including signature or mark, and other information, including data relating to previous registration by the applicant,” the amendment reads.

The suit says this is broad language.

“Amendment 51 does not state that a signature or mark must be made using a specific method or made with any specific type of ink,” the suit says.

GLA launched the online voter registration portal in January. They are adamant that this complies with Arkansas law, since the website does not require a signature. They say this is in keeping with other state agencies that also don't require it.

“And electronic signatures are now a common feature of modern life used for all manner of transactions, from executing large commercial contracts to signing a credit card receipt for a cup of coffee,” the suit says.

They also say the online voter registration tool was created to “encourage civic engagement,” and that making the site required many resources “including staff time and financial resources.”

Get Loud Arkansas' executive director, former Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott, said the secretary of state's office told the group registrations through the online portal would be accepted. In late February, they say the secretary of state's office wrote a letter to county clerks telling them not to accept the signatures. Then in March, an attorney for the Association of Arkansas Counties named Lindsey French told county clerks that “current efforts to register voters electronically run afoul of the law.”

GLA says this violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying it targets minority voters.

The office of Secretary of State John Thurston said they have no comment on the lawsuit.

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