LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — Three Arkansans, including a former Court of Appeals judge and a former state director of elections, are suing Secretary of State John Thurston for what they say are unconstitutional voting restrictions.
The lawsuit challenges absentee voting restrictions that the plaintiffs say force voters to choose between exposing themselves to COVID-19 or exercising their right to vote.
"When the election cycle rolls around and polling sites are closed because workers don't appear, people will be disenfranchised," said Susan Inman, the former state director of elections.
Currently, Arkansas law limits voting by mail to only those who are "unavoidably absent" or unavailable because of an illness or disability. Voters can face a $10,000 fine or 10 years in prison for violating the mail-in guidelines. The lawsuit argues that a 1985 Arkansas Supreme Court decision that allows voters to determine on their own whether they are unavailable, without detailing a reason, should be upheld.
"It's essentially unconstitutional to require an excuse in the first place," said Inman.
In May, Gov. Asa Hutchinson used his executive power to allow no-excuse voting by mail. He has promised to make a decision for the November election by August 1—but Inman said that delay will disenfranchise voters
"If he waits until August, it's going to be a little bit late and untimely for counties to properly prepare," said Inman.
The national debate on voting-by-mail has centered around election security, with many who oppose easing restrictions expressing concern about increased voter fraud ahead of a presidential election. Inman said in Arkansas, absentee voting has several checks in place that make the process secure.
"It's a very secure process and a lot of people who complain about absentee ballots and its potential fraud have used it themselves," Inman said. "The president has voted absentee. Tom Cotton has voted absentee."
No hearing date has been set, but the case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. In addition to lifting restrictions, Inman and the other plaintiffs are asking the court to force the state to mail every registered voter an absentee ballot request form.
The Secretary of State's Office received $4.7 million from the federal government for election assistance as part of the CARES Act. Inman is asking the state to use that federal money to pay for the extra cost of mailing ballots.