WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Aug. 19, a federal court in Arkansas struck down state laws that limited the amount of times a person could assist voters in an election. The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by Arkansas United and its founder Mireya Reith against Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (R), the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners and three county election commissions challenging Arkansas election statutes that made it a crime to help more than six voters in one election. The plaintiffs argued that the laws restricting voter assistance disproportionately harmed voters with limited English proficiency who rely on assistance to cast their ballots in violation of Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which ensures that voters with disabilities or voters who have limited English proficiency and need help reading and writing English can access the ballot box. The plaintiffs also asserted that Section 208 establishes the right “of a limited English proficient voter to bring a person of his or her choice to assist him or her in voting even if that assistor has assisted more than 6 voters.” Friday’s ruling struck down the challenged laws that limited voter assistance, preventing the criminal prosecution of people who assist more than six voters in an election.
Many voters in Arkansas with limited English proficiency need assistance to vote, according to Arkansas United. The plaintiffs note that “there were more Latino [limited English proficiency] voters that needed assistance in casting their ballot at the polls during the 2020 General Election than in prior elections.” In support of this ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge noted that the previous limit on how many voters someone can assist can pose realistic hurdles: “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.” The court did, however, deem the voter tracking requirement, which requires election officials to compile lists of volunteers who assist voters at polling locations, permissible under Section 208. Friday’s decision means that people like Mireya Reith and her organization will be able to assist voters without the threat of criminal penalties in future elections.