LITTLE ROCK – The Secretary of State’s office has issued new rules for groups that want to place ballot issues before voters in the November general election.
The rules reflect changes enacted by lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session. Not all the provisions were upheld when the Supreme Court ruled in a legal challenge of the 2013 law. The Supreme Court rulings and a few changes made by the legislature in 2015 are also reflected in the new rules.
Amendment 7 to the state Constitution grants Arkansas citizens the right to place initiated acts and proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Two recent examples garnered a lot of publicity – in 2008 voters approved the lottery scholarship program and in 2012 they voted against a proposal to legalize medical marijuana. Both measures were on the ballot because supporters had gathered enough signatures on petitions.
For citizens to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot they need to collect signatures of registered voters. They must get 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election for governor. This year that number will be 84,859.
For initiated acts, the number of valid signatures is 8 percent of the total cast in the previous gubernatorial election. This year that will be 67,887.
Signatures must come from at least 15 of the state’s 75 counties, and they must be submitted to the Secretary of State at least four months before the November general election. This year, that deadline isJuly 8. Before June 30 sponsors must publish their proposed initiative in a newspaper of statewide circulation.
Before circulating petitions, sponsoring groups must first submit their proposal and its ballot title to the Attorney General, who will determine whether the title accurately reflects the contents of the initiative.
If the sponsoring group spends or receives more than $500, it must file a statement of organization with the state Ethics Commission and will have to file monthly financial reports.
Groups must file if they are formed either to support or oppose an initiative. Individuals who spend their personal funds, in excess of $500, must also file.
It’s common for organizations to hire paid canvassers to collect signatures. The legislature passed transparency and accountability laws to prevent abuse of this system. Groups must now submit a complete list of their paid canvassers, along with their addresses, and the canvassers must undergo a criminal background check by the State Police.
Sponsoring groups must submit a sworn statement that paid canvassers have not been convicted of a criminal felony or an offense involving identity theft, forgery or election laws.
On or before July 8, when sponsoring groups submit petitions with signatures to the Secretary of State, at least 75 percent of the signatures must be valid in order for the groups to gain an extension.
In the past, in order to buy extra time, some groups have submitted petitions on which as few as a third of the signatures were valid. Now, their initial submission must include the minimum number of signatures and if more than 25 percent are found to be invalid, they will not be allowed to submit additional signatures.