Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down state's voter ID law
People voting

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a state law requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot, saying the measure ran counter to the state's constitution.

The ruling, effective immediately, came less than three weeks before the November election in which Arkansas Democrats are struggling to retain a seat in the U.S. Senate as well as the governorship. Early voting in Arkansas begins on Monday.

"We hold that Act 595 requiring proof of identity is unconstitutional on its face and imposes a requirement that falls outside the ambit of article 3. section 1. of the Arkansas Constitution," the court said in a unanimous ruling of all seven justices.

As in many other states with similar laws, Republican sponsors contended photo identification was necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats countered the law was intended to suppress voting among low-income and minority voters, those least likely to possess the required credentials and who typically favor Democrats.

Democratic Senator Mark Pryor is facing a well-financed challenge from Republican Representative Tom Cotton in a contest that could help determine the balance of power in the chamber.

"This law only made it harder for voters to exercise their most sacred right," Arkansas Democratic Chair Vincent Insalaco said in a statement. "Today's decision is a win for all Arkansas voters."

There was no immediate comment on whether the law's backers would appeal the ruling.

The statute was enacted by the Arkansas Legislature in 2013 over the veto of Democratic Governor Mike Beebe.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Sandra Maler, Eric Beech, and Peter Cooney)