ACLU of Arkansas and ACLU Voting Rights Project Sue to Restore Voting Rights of College Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
October 25, 2002 12:00 am

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ACLU of Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK–Acting on behalf of the governor’s daughter, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the ACLU’s National Voting Rights Project today filed a federal lawsuit to challenge a circuit judge’s decision that college students and others already registered to vote in Clark County are unqualified to vote in the November 5 election.

The judge ordered the County Clerk to purge the voter rolls of all “persons [emphasis added] listing as their address a university post office box, university dormitory, or other university owned student housing” (except staff) and to “refuse to accept voter registrations from persons listing as their address” at any of these places.

“This order effectively disenfranchised nearly 1,000 American citizens,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “Moreover, these were young people who went to the trouble of registering to vote and who wanted to participate in the political process. They are unfortunately a rare breed, and our democracy cannot afford to lose them.”

The challenge to the college students’ right to vote in Clark County, which houses two institutions of higher learning, Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) and Henderson State College, was brought by a resident who, according to news reports, felt the college students’ votes “diluted” his own vote.

One of the ACLU plaintiffs is Sarah Huckabee, who attends OBU and is the daughter of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. “One of the most interesting aspects of this case,” said Sklar, “is that both the Democratic Secretary of State and the Republican Governor came to us in outrage at the judge’s ruling, expecting and knowing the ACLU would do something about it, and we did. It proves that we all agree on one thing: the importance of the right to vote.”

Sklar said that the ACLU is challenging the circuit judge’s ruling as a violation of equal protection and due process. While states can impose residency requirements on voters, Sklar said, each voter’s situation must be looked at individually. In Clark County, however the judge ruled an entire class of people — college students — ineligible to vote.

Sarah Huckabee, for instance, has lived in Clark County for two years, voted last year, and recently served on jury duty there. Adam Copeland, who is a former foster child and is now emancipated, has no home besides his college residence. Rebecca Fuller has lived in Clark County since she was 11 years old; while at school her parents moved to a new house in which she has never lived, so she kept her registration at her college address. J.D. Hays has lived in Clark County for at least 10 years, but has a university address. Jennifer Thompson, a pre-school teacher in town, is not a student at OBU, though her husband is; they live together in university housing.

“As our plaintiffs demonstrate,” said Sklar, “it is impossible to paint all people with a college address with one brush, as the judge did here.”

The ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order to require the Clark County Clerk to restore all purged voters from the voter rolls, allow all people prohibited from registering to register, and otherwise provide necessary relief to “ensure that no person is denied the right to vote based on the defendants’ unconstitutional application of [Arkansas law].”

The case is Copeland v. Priest.

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