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Election laws to be enforced for upcoming elections

By submitted, 05/26/24 7:41 AM

LITTLE ROCK – Four election laws passed by the legislature in 2021 will continue to be enforced, thanks to an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that upholds their constitutionality.

The four laws were immediately challenged after the 2021 regular session, during which the legislature enacted a long series of election integrity laws.

Last year a Pulaski County judge ruled that the four laws were unconstitutional. The lower court decision was reversed by the Supreme Court, which determined that the Pulaski County judge had made an error in law.

The four laws are Acts 249, 728, 736 and 973 of 2021.

Act 249 reaffirms the requirement that a voter bring a government-issued photo ID to the polling place. It repeals a provision in previous law that used to allow voters to sign an affidavit at their polling place if they didn’t have a photo ID with them.

Under Act 249, in order for their provisional ballots to be counted, voters must bring their ID to the county clerk or the county board of election commissioners by the Monday following Election Day.

Act 249 does not allow for a signature at the polling place, with or without an affidavit.

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, except for a person entering or leaving the building for lawful purposes.

Supporters of Act 728 say it prevents intimidation and electioneering within 100 feet of voting places. Opponents say it will prevent people from passing out water, and the lower court ruling was that it violated free speech rights embodied in the First Amendment.

However, the Arkansas Supreme Court cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have allowed restrictions on speech within 100 feet of a polling place. Therefore Act 728 easily satisfies First Amendment challenges, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Act 736 states that possession of more than four absentee ballots is presumed to be election fraud. It requires county clerks to provide the county board of election commissioners with a daily count of absentee ballot applications.

A contested provision of Act 736 directs county clerks to compare signatures on applications for absentee ballots with the original 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. Opponents of the act argued that a person’s signatures change over time, and that the law would burden elderly voters.

Act 973 moves the deadline when absentee ballots must be turned in to the county clerk, from the Monday immediately before Election Day to the preceding Friday.

The Supreme Court ruled that the four laws did not threaten citizens’ fundamental right to vote. The justice who wrote the majority opinion said that “while the right to vote has been held to be fundamental, the right to vote in a particular manner is not guaranteed.”

In 2021 the legislature enacted a long series of election integrity laws clarifying the powers of county boards of election commissioners in relation to county clerks.