The state Republican Party is being allowed to intervene in a lawsuit defending ID rules for absentee voters. The decision came Monday morning after a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox.
The state Board of Election Commissioners created a rule in February allowing absentee voters additional time to show ID if they failed to include a copy. The elections commission in Pulaski County has challenged the state board’s authority to craft the rule saying only the legislature can make such a provision.
Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb expressed concern the Attorney General’s office would not mount a “fervent” defense of the state board's absentee provisions because of statements made prior to the lawsuit.
“They had issued an opinion essentially saying the state board could not issue rules to protect absentee voters who failed to include an ID…The Attorney General’s office was called on to defend the state board which was counter to what their initial unbinding opinion was,” said Webb.
Those opposing the GOP’s involvement say the Attorney General’s opinion does not mean it can’t effectively defend the state law. Pulaski County Election Commissioner Chris Burks said Judge Fox's ruling is not necessarily a comment on the ability of the Attorney General’s office to be fair.
“The judge explicitly rejected their rationale. That rationale was that the Attorney General’s office can’t do its job because it has an opinions department and it also represents state boards. That opinion advanced by the state Republican Party was rejected today. Judge Fox said the AG’s office does this hundreds of times in civil cases. They issue opinions in the opinions department and they have a law that says they have to do that. There’s also a law that says they represent state agencies, boards, and commissions,” said Burks.
Commissioner Burks commented further on Judge Fox’s inclusion of the GOP in the defense.
“He allowed them permissive intervention. Permissive for the purpose of avoiding the appearance of impropriety, avoiding the appearance that the Republicans wouldn’t have a say,” said Burks.
With the question of the appearance of impartiality settled both sides have until Friday to submit briefs. Judge Fox is expected to rule on the 23rd, in advance of May elections, whether or not the state board can grant additional time for absentee voters to present ID.