Arkansas election officials can once again limit the number of voters interpreters can assist at the polls after a federal appeals court delayed implementation of a ruling that had ordered the state to stop enforcing a 2009 state law.
The law prohibited someone other than poll workers from assisting more than six voters in casting a ballot.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks in August declared that the six-voter limit violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Brooks ordered state election officials to cease enforcement of the law in advance of the 2022 General Election.
On Sept. 8, the secretary of state’s office filed notice that it intended to appeal Brooks’ ruling. Officials also filed an emergency motion for a stay pending appeal, which the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Sept. 28.
“For the 2022 election, our guidance from the Secretary of State’s office is that we have to monitor that limit for individuals assisting voters,” Washington County elections director Jennifer Price said Wednesday. “Obviously we’ll follow the direction of the secretary of state’s office and what we need to do, but we want to make sure that we’re providing assistance where needed.”
Election materials are available in Spanish in Washington County where officials have recruited bilingual poll workers who can speak both Spanish and Marshallese, Price said.
In 2020, immigrant advocacy group Arkansas United partnered with MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) to sue Arkansas election officials, including Secretary of State John Thurston, over the 2009 law.
Arkansas United has historically helped coordinate volunteers to help translate at polling locations.
Following Brooks’ August ruling, Arkansas United executive director Mireya Reith said the removal of the six-person limit would put less strain on their resources.
Reith called the appeals court’s stay heartbreaking.
“This just is going to be putting additional work on us as we go into these elections, and unfortunately now there’s not time to raise the money to be able to intervene in a bigger way,” she said.
“So we’re going to do the best we can, but we feel that this imposition, and at the eleventh hour, is only going to help make our case when this case gets appealed.”
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