Arkansas now finds itself in the center of the national debate over what is “election integrity” and what is “voter suppression”. And a Baptist judge is one of the key players.
Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen (who is also a BNG columnist) ruled on March 18 that four new laws passed by the Arkansas Legislature to make it harder to vote place an unconstitutional burden on access to vote.
Griffen, who also serves as pastor of the New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock, sided with the plaintiffs in the case, which included the League of Women Voters.
As Max Brantley reported in the Arkansas Times“The Republican Legislative Assembly argued that the laws were vote integrity measures but provided no evidence that they were necessary. Even one of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s defense witnesses from the Republican-controlled state’s Board of Election Commissioners said he was unaware of any significant voter fraud.
Although the final written decision has not yet been produced, Griffen announced from the bench that, based on “a preponderance of the evidence”, the four new laws “are entirely based on guesswork and speculation. Guesswork and speculation, no matter how plausible -they cannot be authorized to provide the place of proof.
The state of Arkansas is expected to appeal the circuit court’s decision.
These Arkansas laws are part of a Republican effort to enact “election integrity” laws in states across the country. The project was sparked by Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through voter fraud. Faced with the need to win future elections in an increasingly ethnically diverse nation, Republicans have sought to restrict access to the ballot, which critics say mostly excludes votes from minorities and the poor.
In his first primaries in the country, Texas has proven the effect of these new laws. An Associated Press analysis found that Texas – where new voting restrictions have also been enacted – has been rejecting mail-in ballots “at an abnormally high rate”.
An Associated Press analysis found that Texas – where new voting restrictions have also been enacted – has been rejecting mail-in ballots “at an abnormally high rate”.
The AP report explained: “Republicans promised that new layers of voting rules would make it ‘easier to vote and harder to cheat.’ and the hurdles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.
Previously, it would have been unusual for 2% of ballots to be discarded in an election, the AP explained, but in the Texas primaries, about 13% of mail-in ballots “were discarded and not counted. in 187 counties”.
Arkansas Laws Judge Griffen deemed unacceptable included an arduous signature match requirement even one Republican lawmaker called “full of errors”; create the first postal voting deadline in the country; requiring certain voters to appear in person at a county clerk’s office to prove their identity; and banning “queue warming,” the practice of handing out water and snacks to voters who wait for hours in long lines to vote.
Just three weeks before Judge Griffen’s ruling against new voting restrictions in Arkansas, a Trump-appointed federal judge dismissed a case involving new maps for Arkansas’ Legislative Districts.
The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that the cards diluted the power of black voters. But Judge Lee Rudofsky said he found no way for the challengers to pursue their case.
“Only the Attorney General of the United States can bring a case like this,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for the ACLU said Rudofsky’s decision was “so drastic that there was no choice but to appeal”. Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, added, “Individuals have brought actions under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote during generations”.
This issue has been around since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 eight years ago. With a new Tory supermajority in the High Court, even some court judges are hoping for a chance to narrow the scope of those who can challenge election laws.
“The Arkansas case is the latest in a string of defeats for civil rights advocates as conservative-leaning judges slowly dismantle key provisions of the law,” Carrie Johnson reported for NPR.
Democrats in the U.S. Congress drafted a major voting rights protection bill that passed the House but remains stalled in the Senate due to opposition from two Democratic senators from the swing state.
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Poor people’s campaign marches on Texas Capitol with demands for suffrage