State of Arkansas

Arkansas Voter Assistance Limitations Challenge

Arkansas United v. Thurston

Lawsuit filed in federal court by Arkansas United and a voter against Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (R) and state and county election officials challenging voter assistance restrictions prescribed by the Arkansas Election Code that limit voter assistance options. The plaintiffs allege that the challenged provisions of Arkansas state law — which impose a six-person limit on the number of individuals to whom a non-election official assistor may provide help — disproportionately harm voters with limited English proficiency who rely on assistance to cast their ballots. These laws specifically classify helping more than six individuals with voting as a misdemeanor, punishable with jail time and a fine of up to $2,000. The laws also mandate that poll workers track and maintain a list of the addresses and names of all assistors at a given polling site. The plaintiffs contend that the relevant provisions violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which “establishes the right of every limited English proficient voter to bring an assistor of his or her choice into the voting booth, as long as the assistor is not the voter’s employer or union representative.” The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the challenged provisions in violation of the VRA and the U.S. Constitution and to enjoin the defendants from enforcing them. 

In September 2021, both the plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment. On Aug. 19, 2022, the court denied the defendants’ motion and granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion. As to the plaintiffs’ motion, the court declared that the six-voter assistance limitation punishable by criminal prosecution is prohibited under Section 208 of the VRA and permanently blocked the provision. The court did, however, deem the voter tracking requirement, which requires election officials to compile lists of assisters at polling locations, permissible under Section 208. This means this tracking requirement remains in place in Arkansas. The defendants appealed the decision and it was stayed (meaning paused) by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2022 elections.

On Feb. 27, 2024, the 8th Circuit issued a ruling to allow the case to go forward. The appeal is ongoing.

On April 23, 2024, Arkansas United filed a motion to stay the appeal so they could amend their complaint in light of the 8th Circuit’s decision in Arkansas State Conference NAACP v. Arkansas Board of Apportionment. The merits briefing in the 8th Circuit was paused until the appeals court ruled on the motion to stay.

STATUS: On May 8, 2024, the 8th Circuit denied the motion to stay. Litigation is ongoing.

Case Documents (District court)

Case Documents (8th Circuit)

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