LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court has tossed out a judge's ruling striking down the state's voter ID law, but stopped short of ruling on the constitutionality of the measure.
Justices on Wednesday vacated a Pulaski County judge's decision that the law violates Arkansas' constitution. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox had struck down the law in a case that had focused on how absentee ballots are handled under the law, but justices stayed his ruling while they considered an appeal.
Justices said Fox didn't have the authority to strike down the law in the case focusing on absentee ballots.
Fox has also ruled the law unconstitutional in a separate case, but said he wouldn't block its enforcement during this month's primary. That ruling is also being appealed to the high court.
Arkansas is amid early voting ahead of next Tuesday's primary.
The ruling comes as voter ID laws are being challenged throughout the nation. Though 31 states have laws in effect requiring voters to show some form of identification, Arkansas' in one of the strictest in the nation. Seven other states have photo ID requirements in effect similar to Arkansas.
A federal judge in Wisconsin struck down that state's voter ID law last month, and Pennsylvania's governor has said he wouldn't appeal a judge's recent ruling striking down his state's voter ID law. President Barack Obama last month waded into the voter ID debate, accusing Republicans of using restrictions to keep voters from the polls and jeopardizing 50 years of expanded voting access for millions of black Americans and other minorities.
Republicans backing voter ID laws in Arkansas and elsewhere have said the efforts are aimed at preventing voter fraud and protecting the integrity of the election process.
Under previous law in Arkansas, election workers were required to ask for photo ID but voters didn't have to show it to cast a ballot. Under the new law, voters who don't show photo identification can cast provisional ballots. Those ballots are counted only if voters provide ID to county election officials before noon on the Monday after an election, sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.
Arkansas' law took effect Jan. 1 and had been used in some local elections this year. This month's primary is the first statewide test of the new law.
The case had initially focused on rules for absentee ballots under the voter ID law. The Pulaski County Election Commission sued the state Board of Election Commissioners for adopting a rule that gives absentee voters additional time to show proof of ID. The rule allows voters who did not submit required identification with their absentee ballot to turn in the documents for their vote to be counted by noon Monday following an election. It mirrors an identical "cure period" the law gives to voters who fail to show identification at the polls.
Fox's ruling had been stayed by the state Supreme Court, but the high court declined to stay Fox's decision to strike down the state board's rule giving absentee voters additional time.