FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A federal court has ruled that a section of Arkansas’ election law that places limits on who may provide assistance to voters, including those who are not proficient in English, violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
In a 39-page ruling issued late Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy L. Brooks concludes that “Arkansas has determined that voters should only get the assistor of their choice up to a point, but there is no evidence Congress contemplated this numerical restriction on the right provided by (VRA’s) § 208.”
“Without any basis, Arkansas has sought to set an arbitrary limit on assistance to duly registered voters,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) president and general counsel. “Such a limit is fundamentally anti-democratic, and the federal court has now appropriately eliminated the state’s arbitrary limit on American democracy.”
At issue is a section of Arkansas’ election code that prohibits voters from selecting an individual of their choice to help them vote when that individual has already helped six other voters.
In 2020, MALDEF and attorney Lawrence A. Walker sued Arkansas officials, challenging the six-person limit as a violation of Section 208 of the federal VRA, which provides that a voter who requires assistance to vote, including for reasons of inability to read the ballot or language assistance due to limited English proficiency, may bring a person of his or her choice to assist in casting the ballot.
“This is an important win for our clients, the Latino community and every disenfranchised voter in Arkansas. Under federal law every voter who needs assistance has a protected right to an assistor of their choice and now every Arkansan does too. Arkansas United and other organizations like them can now provide critical assistance, such as translation or finding their polling place, to Arkansas’ voters who need it in order to participate in our fundamental right to vote,” said Griselda Vega Samuel, MALDEF’s Regional Counsel, Midwest.
The judge rejected Arkansas’ argument that the six-voter limit would only present an obstacle to voting in a ‘far-fetched’ and implausible situation. “That scenario is far from ‘implausible.’ Take, for example, a family where a teenage child is fluent in English, but her parents, older siblings, and grandparents are not. Those family members may all wish to have the English-speaking child translate their voting materials for them. But some of the family members would be thwarted by the six-voter limit,” wrote Judge Brooks.
MALDEF represents Arkansas United, an immigrants’ rights group, and its executive director, L. Mireya Reith. Founded in 2010, Arkansas United advocates for immigrant populations in the state, including working on non-partisan get-out-the-vote efforts among naturalized citizens.
MALDEF recently filed a similar lawsuit challenging a Missouri election provision that disenfranchises voters with limited English proficiency or with disabilities who require assistance in casting a ballot.
In the Arkansas case, the court denied State and County Defendants’ motions for summary judgment, as well as, partially granting and partially denying Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, by allowing Arkansas’ assistor-tracking provision to remain in place so the state can continue to keep track of what individuals provide assistance to which voters.
Read the ruling HERE.