Federal Judge Strikes Down Republican Voter Suppression Attempt


Recently, a federal judge struck down years-old restrictions in Arkansas that limited those assisting other voters at polling places to helping no more than six people.

Federal Judge Timothy Brooks, who delivered the decision, noted that the restrictions could even pose a problem in a moderately sized family in which multiple family members rely on one younger member who is proficient in English. As summarized by the voting rights organization Democracy Docket, the lawsuit, which was first filed in 2020, specifically cited the potential impacts from the restrictions on voters who have minimal or no proficiency with English, and the case characterized the restrictions as violating the longstanding federal law known as the Voting Rights Act. That law doesn’t include limits on individuals assisting voters of the sort Arkansas authorities imposed. The challenged measures went into effect in 2009. While ruling against the limits on the numbers of voters that individuals in Arkansas can assist at the polls, Brooks allowed for local officials assembling lists of volunteers who help voters casting their ballots. Collecting the info is required under state law.

The New York Times noted late last month that the status of any appeals in the case wasn’t immediately clear. Officials responsible at both the state and county levels for handling elections in Arkansas were originally included as defendants in the initial lawsuit, which was brought by an organization called Arkansas United and its founder, L. Mireya Reith. Arkansas United advocates for immigrants in its home state, including through legal assistance. Daniel J. Shults, who serves as director of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, defended the voter assistance restrictions to The New York Times. “Having a uniform limitation on the number of voters a third party may assist prevents a bad actor from having unlimited access to voters in the voting booth while ensuring voter’s privacy is protected,” Shults claimed. Like with other GOP attempts to lock down the electoral process in various locales, there’s no apparent real-world evidence of a real-world abuse that actually necessitates the sharp restrictions.

In the case, Arkansas United was legally represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where Thomas Saenz is president and general counsel. The organization is also responsible for a similar lawsuit in Missouri challenging that state’s restrictions on voter assistance, which limit those helping voters at the polls to just one person — even stricter than the limit of half a dozen people that was recently undone in Arkansas by the federal judge. In conversation with the Times, Saenz suggested there’s a “stigma” surrounding individuals participating in voter assistance efforts at the polls. There’s also another new lawsuit in Missouri challenging newly imposed requirements demanding photo ID for all voters casting their ballots at in-person polling places in the state. Those restrictions went into effect just last month.

Meanwhile, the Times notes disabled voters also potentially faced negative consequences from Arkansas’s overturned restrictions. In Wisconsin, another federal judge recently ruled in favor of disabled voters in a challenge to a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court that demanded only individual voters could return their absentee ballots in person to election authorities, although assistance options were previously available.