Judge strikes down restrictive Arkansas law that violates voting rights law
A federal lawsuit in Fayetteville marked a victory for voting rights in Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks ruled that a section of Arkansas election law that limits who can provide assistance to voters, including those who are not fluent in English, violates federal voting rights law.
At issue was a section of the state election code passed in 2009 that prohibits voters from selecting a person of their choice to help them vote when that person has already helped six other voters.
In a 39-page decision released Friday night, Brooks wrote, “Arkansas has determined that voters should only get the assistant of their choice up to a certain point, but there is no evidence that Congress considered this. numerical restriction on the right.”
In 2020, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, known as MALDEF, and attorney Lawrence A. Walker sued Arkansas officials. The suit argued that the six-person limit violated Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act. Under this section, a person requiring assistance in voting, including for reasons of inability to read the ballot or language assistance due to limited English proficiency, may bring a person of his choice to help him vote.
“Without any basis, Arkansas has sought to place an arbitrary limit on assistance to properly registered voters,” said Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF. “Such a limit is fundamentally undemocratic, and the federal court has now appropriately removed the arbitrary state-imposed limit on American democracy.”
“This is an important victory for our customers, the Latino community, and every disenfranchised voter in Arkansas,” said Griselda Vega Sauel, MALDEF Regional Advisor for the Midwest. “Arkansas United and other organizations like them can now provide essential assistance, such as translation or location locating, to Arkansas voters who need it to participate in our basic right to vote.”
The judge rejected Arkansas’ argument that the six-vote limit would only present a barrier to voting in a “wacky” situation.
“This scenario is far from being ‘implausible’. Take, for example, a family where a teenager is fluent in English, but his parents, older siblings, and grandparents are not,” Brooks wrote. “These family members may all want the English-speaking child to translate their voting material for them. But some family members would be thwarted by the six-vote limit.
MALDEF represents Arkansas Unitedan immigrant rights group, and its executive director, L. Mireya Reith.
MALDEF recently filed a similar lawsuit in Missouri.