Lawsuit filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and Arkansas residents against Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (R) and members of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners challenging Arkansas laws governing the rejection of mail-in ballots. According to data from 2020, Arkansas has the highest absentee ballot rejection rate of any state and the lowest turnout rate in the country. The plaintiffs allege that Arkansas law requires election officials to reject absentee ballots that do not have a voter’s signature or if “the officials perceive a mismatch between the signature, address, or date of birth on the voter’s absentee ballot and absentee ballot application materials.” The plaintiffs note that once an election official deems a ballot deficient, voters can not fix the deficiency before the ballot is rejected. Additionally, voters do not receive notice that their ballot was rejected until after Election Day.
The plaintiffs argue that the signature matching process is “highly error-prone due to the wide array of physical and environmental factors that cause the appearance of an individual’s signature to vary.” Importantly, the plaintiffs assert that “[a]lthough Arkansas does not document the racial or ethnic breakdown of absentee ballots rejected based on a signature mismatch, a report by the ACLU in Florida found higher rejection rates among Black and Hispanic voters compared to those for white voters.”
The plaintiffs claim that the challenged provisions violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying voters the right to procedural due process. Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that the challenged provisions violate the First and 14th Amendments by burdening the right to vote. Lastly, the plaintiffs allege that the rejection of absentee ballots for immaterial errors — that are unrelated to a voter’s eligibility — violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act and results in disenfranchisement.
The plaintiffs request that the court issue a judgment declaring that Arkansas’ ballot rejection scheme violates the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. The plaintiffs also request that election officials notify voters of “any deficiencies in their absentee ballots based on a missing signature or a mismatch with their absentee ballot application material” and allow voters to cure those deficiencies. The plaintiffs ask the court to bar election officials from not counting ballots with technical errors or omissions that are unrelated to a voter’s eligibility.
On Oct. 26, 2020, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request to temporarily block the signature matching and ballot rejection provisions. On Sept. 29, 2023 the court dismissed the case.