FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A civil rights organization asked a federal district court to block sections of the Arkansas Election Code because it disenfranchises voters who are not proficient in English, according to a new lawsuit filed.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and attorney Lawrence A. Walker of Little Rock filed a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of Arkansas United, an immigrants’ rights group, and its executive director.
Attorneys argue that restrictions in the Arkansas election code violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act guarantee that any voter who requires assistance in voting, including those with limited proficiency in English, may bring a person of their choice to assist them with casting a ballot. By limiting the number of voters a person can assist, Arkansas impedes the ability of limited English proficient voters to participate in an election, the complaint says.
“All Arkansas voters should have the right to receive any assistance or assistant they desire in exercising the franchise,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Unnecessary impediments to this right cheapen our democracy by blocking legitimate participation by some state-disfavored voters.”
Attorneys also claim that the Arkansas restrictions harm Arkansas United by causing the organization to divert resources away from its other critical work in order to find additional assistors for limited English-proficient voters. Further, the complaint says, the Arkansas restrictions injure the organization by subjecting its employees, including executive director Mireya Reith, to criminal prosecution and fines if they assist more than six voters and prohibit the organization from fulfilling its mission of assisting limited English proficient voters in casting a ballot.
“Voting is essential to our democracy,” said Griselda Vega Samuel, MALDEF Midwest Regional Counsel. “Congress understood the importance of such a critical civic duty as voting and enacted Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Federal law specifically protects the right of any voter who needs assistance with voting, and Section 208 ensures they get that assistance and vote. Yet the State of Arkansas is preventing some of its citizens from voting and exposing those who seek to help those voters to criminal prosecution. We’ve filed this lawsuit to protect both the right of those voters who need assistance and the right of those who can and want to help to do so without facing criminal penalties.”
Arkansas United was founded in 2010 and is based in Springdale, Arkansas.