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Citizen-Led Initiatives

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –

This week, I’m continuing my series of columns on the proposed constitutional amendments referred to the people by the legislature.

Arkansas is one of 24 states where an average citizen can initiate legislation and if he/she can gather enough petition signatures, their proposal can appear on the November ballot.  A citizen-led initiative can either be in the form of an initiated act or a constitutional amendment.

When you vote this November, you may see some citizen-led initiatives on the ballot and you will also find the 3 referred amendments, one of which could impact the process for future citizen initiatives.

Issue number 2 would require that at least 75% of the petition signatures be valid when the petitions are turned in to the Secretary of State.

A petition for an initiated act must contain the signatures of registered voters equal to the amount of 8% of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last preceding general election.

A petition for a constitutional amendment is required to contain signatures of qualified electors in the amount of ten percent (10%) of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last preceding general election.

62,507 valid signatures are required for initiated acts and 78,133 for constitutional amendments.  Signatures must also include registered voters in at least 15 of the 75 counties.

Currently, if someone gathers signatures and turns them in by the deadline, the Secretary of State has 30 days to validate the signatures.  There is no minimum threshold to allow for an extension.  Even if only 10% of those signatures were from registered voters, backers of the proposal would then be given an additional 30 days to gather the required amount.

Supporters of Issue 2 say the reason this measure is needed is because in the past groups were turning in petitions where less than 50% of the signatures were valid knowing that they did not meet the threshold but planning to use the 30 day “cure period” to obtain the balance. Supporters of Issue 2 say that establishing a threshold for validity helps to protect the process and prevent “gaming” of the system by corporate interests and individuals with the money to hire paid operatives.

Opponents contend that this is one area where the everyday citizen is can affect government and the process should not be made any more difficult.
The vote to refer this issue to the voters was 65-17 in the House and 29-4 in the Senate.

You can find a copy of Issue 2 at the following link: http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/elections/Documents/Initiatives%20and%20Referenda/SJR16.pdf
Ballot questions are among the most important decisions made by voters. I hope you’ll take the time to study each of them carefully and make an informed decision.

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