ISSUE NUMBER 3
Changing Arkansas’ Citizen Initiative Process, Votes Required for Legislative Proposals, and Publication Requirements
POPULAR NAME: A constitutional amendment to amend the process for the submission, challenge, and approval of proposed initiated acts, constitutional amendments, and referenda
BALLOT TITLE: An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to amend the process for the submission, challenge, and approval of proposed initiated acts, constitutional amendments, and referenda.
What is being proposed?
Voters are being asked to approve changes to Arkansas’ citizen initiative process, the number of votes required for legislative ballot issues, and publication requirements for legislative ballot titles. Specifically, this amendment would change Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, known as “Initiatives and Referendum.”
The proposed changes would:
1. Change the date when voter signatures are due for statewide ballot measures proposed by the public. Instead of four months ahead of the general election, the due date would be set as January 15 of the election year.
2. Increase the number of counties where voter signatures must be collected for statewide ballot measures and referendums proposed by the public, from 15 counties to 45 counties.
3. Establish April 15 of the election year as the deadline for filing lawsuits challenging statewide ballot measures proposed by the public. 4. Eliminate the ability of statewide ballot issue groups to collect and submit additional signatures from voters to put a proposed constitutional amendment, state law or referendum on the ballot if the frst round of signatures submitted to the Secretary of State do not meet the threshold. This is often called a “cure period.”
5. Eliminate the cure period for local ballot measures on a city or county-wide ballot if the first round of signatures submitted to the city or county clerk does not meet the threshold.
6. Eliminate a section requiring that a person challenging the validity of a ballot issue petition in court has the burden to prove the petition is invalid. The impact of this change is not clear.
7. Add a sentence to the constitution that extends a deadline that falls on a weekend or holiday, to the next day that isn’t a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.
Who can propose constitutional amendments?
The legislature and Arkansas citizens can change the existing state constitution through the ballot issue process. Legislators have the right to refer ballot issues to the public. They can propose up to three amendments on the General Election ballot. Legislators also have the authority to propose a fourth amendment if it deals with legislative salaries. The ability for citizens to petition voters was first put in place in 1910, though it wasn’t cemented in law until 1925 when the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld Amendment 7 of 1920 that spelled out the citizen initiative process that is in the Constitution today.
Arkansas is one of 15 states that allow citizens the ability to collect voter signatures to put a proposed state law, constitutional amendment, or referendum on the ballot for voters to decide. A ballot issue group must file a statement of organization with the Arkansas Ethics Commission if any money is raised or spent on a campaign.
According to historical sources, Arkansas legislators referred 124 constitutional amendments to voters between 1884 and 2018.
Voters approved 71 of those measures and rejected 53 proposals. The same sources show that between 1912 and 2018, citizen-led groups succeeded in putting 77 amendments on the ballot for voters to decide.
Voters approved 36 of those measures and rejected 41. Citizen-led groups also proposed 31 state laws. Voters approved 16 of the measures and rejected 15 proposals. During that same time period, seven state laws adopted by the legislature were put on the ballot as referendums. Voters decided to keep two of the laws and overturned the rest.
Many of the proposals made since 1874 have dealt with similar subject matter. For example, taxes, casino gaming and term limits have been the subject of multiple proposals over the decades.
What do supporters say?
• In Arkansas, out-of-state interest groups have taken advantage of the current initiative process by buying signatures in the parts of Arkansas that have large populations and predominantly one type of ideology. By collecting signatures there, these interest groups can affect governance to the left when our state has predominantly gone middle to the slightly middle right. Entities like casinos, marijuana, higher minimum wage, and things that were introduced to the state by large special interest groups; things that the liberal-type entities want to get across our country.
• The Arkansas Constitution should be held as our sacred governing document, and should not be easily changed by outside influence. Issue 3 would build a layer of protection around the constitution.
• This proposal requires a specified number of citizens in 60% of the counties to sign a petition or yes votes by 60% of the legislature to put a measure on the ballot. These changes seek to ensure that the only measures placed on the ballot will have been considered important by a significant number of Arkansans.
• Both the Courts and electors benefit from a deadline to file lawsuits. The court is given ample time to rule on the proposal and if a proposal is removed from the ballot by the court, it should be done before money has been raised and spent to support or oppose a measure.
What do opponents say?
• It will make it virtually impossible to get a petition on the ballot and that’s their goal.
• If the politicians wanted to protect our constitution then they should have proposed an amendment to restrict the number of amendments that they can refer since over 80% of the amendments originated with the legislature. But they did not, and the reason that they did not is that this is not about the number of amendments to the constitution that have been approved by voters. It is an attempt by the politicians to take power away from the people.
• If everyday Arkansans couldn’t propose ballot measures, the minimum wage in Arkansas would still only be $8.50 an hour. But in 2018, because of a citizen-led ballot measure, over 68 percent of Arkansas voters approved an increase in the pay of hardworking people.
• It would make it much more difficult for citizen-led ballot measures to collect the signatures they need to get their proposal on the ballot. It would more than double the requirement for the number of counties where signatures would be collected, from 15 to 45 counties. More signatures required means more money would have to be spent to collect signatures; so only the biggest, best-financed campaigns could succeed in moving their measure forward. It would also decrease the amount of time citizens can collect signatures for ballot measure petitions by about six months, adding yet another barrier to signature collection.