Early voting open for Fayetteville’s civil rights election

File photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Early voting for the Sept. 8 civil rights special election is underway at the County Clerk’s office inside the Washington County Courthouse at 280 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville.

Ballots can be cast between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. through Friday, Sept. 4. Both paper ballots and touch-screen machines will be available for early voters.

The election will decide the fate of the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance, which would replace a similar law that was narrowly repealed in December.

If passed, the new ordinance will prohibit business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Churches, religious schools and daycare facilities, and religious organizations of any kind would be exempt from the new law.

Representatives of Protect Fayetteville, a group advocating against passage of the city’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance, filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the validity of the ordinance.

The suit, which seeks an injunction to halt the special election, should come as no surprise to backers of the measure.

City Attorney Kit Williams said earlier this year he expects the ordinance to be challenged by a lawsuit because of a recently passed state law which aimed to bans cities and counties from enacting new civil rights protections.

Williams said despite the new legislation, he doesn’t believe the new ordinance conflicts with state law. He referenced an argument used by Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter when Little Rock was considering a civil rights ordinance in April. Carpenter cited portions of Title 6, Chapter 18 of Arkansas Code, which prohibit bullying in public schools on the basis of several classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Because those protected classes already exist, Carpenter opined, a municipality would not be in violation of Act 37 by adopting nondiscrimination policies based on those classes.

Williams said Carpenter’s arguments would also apply to the new law in Fayetteville.

“It won’t be a slam dunk…but I’m fully prepared to defend this,” said Williams.