Arkansas AG seeks emergency court ruling, says voting lawsuit could throw primaries into chaos
A ruling that declared four Arkansas voting laws unconstitutional "threatens electoral chaos and confusion," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Thursday in an emergency motion filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen tossed the laws earlier this month that would have required voter identification for absentee ballots, banned loitering near polling places and changed the time absentee ballots must be submitted.
Griffen denied the state's motion for a stay earlier this week.
Rutledge asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to consider the matter "urgent" and issue a stay of injunction and give the matter expedited consideration.
"Absentee ballots are finalized and ready to be mailed – and, indeed, must be mailed by next week – and in-person voting begins in mere weeks," Rutledge said in her motion. "It is common sense that courts ought not change the rules on the eve of an election due to the ensuing chaos and confusion. Yet Judge Griffen did just that."
A spokesperson from Secretary of State John Thurston's office said he could not comment on the issue because it is pending in court.
The state is likely to win its appeal as it "undeniably has an interest in preventing voter fraud," Rutledge said in the motion.
"Applying strict scrutiny to any election measure aimed at maintaining ballot integrity means that those measures will almost invariably fail," Rutledge said in the court filing.
Arkansas also is facing a challenge to its congressional redistricting boundaries. Four Black residents have filed a federal lawsuit accusing Arkansas lawmakers of diluting Black voting strength in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Pulaski County. Lawmakers split the voters into first and fourth district.
"However, there were other plans proposed that achieved that purpose without splitting the heavily Black populated areas of Congressional District Two, and many others that can be easily devised to accomplish the population goals while achieving compactness and preserving and improving communities of interest," the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not sign the redistricting bills last October but allowed them to become law without his signature, saying he was concerned about how the district lines would affect minority voting.
“While the percentage of the minority composition of the proposed map for three of the four districts does not differ much from the current percentages, the removal of minority areas in Pulaski County into two different districts raises concerns," Hutchinson said at the time. "I decided not to veto the bills but instead to let them go into law without my signature. This will enable those who wish to challenge this redistricting plan in court to do so."
The federal case will be heard by a three-judge panel.