Federal court tosses Arkansas' limits on election helpers

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Court, law, scales of justice, Gavel, crime, judge, judgement, legal,

FAYETTEVILLE -- A state law limiting the number of times one person can help translate for voters was overturned in federal court Friday.

Arkansas United, a Springdale-based immigrant rights group, filed the suit on behalf of voters who aren't proficient in English. A 2009 state law forbids any one person who isn't an election official from helping more than six people vote at the polls in each election.

The lawsuit argued the federal Voter Rights Act allows eligible voters who need assistance to get it from the person of their choice. The lawsuit names Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston and state election officials as well as local election officials in Benton, Washington and Sebastian counties.

A record number of people who aren't fluent in English voted in the 2020 general election, the Nov. 2, 2021 lawsuit by Arkansas United said. This includes people who speak English well, but aren't proficient in reading it, and therefore couldn't understand written voting instructions.

These voters needed help, but multilingual election officials were in short supply, the lawsuit claims. The limit of six people, in some cases, meant even a family member couldn't render assistance to all close relatives who needed it, according to the lawsuit.

Benton, Sebastian and Washington counties were the ones named in the lawsuit because those are counties in which Arkansas United is active in helping non-English speakers vote and where the group claimed the limit was discriminatory. Friday's order tells the state and county authorities to drop all attempts to enforce the 2009 state law and drop all mention of it from election literature.

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