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Will We See Fewer Ballot Issues?

by Kristin Higgins - September 22, 2017

Ballot Issue Newsletter graphicBallot issues may seem like they pop up out of no where, but they're usually years in the making especially if they're coming from the public. So it's interesting to note that fewer proposals from the public have been certified for signature gathering for the 2018 ballot than in recent years.

At this time in 2015, nine proposed ballot issues had received certification from the Attorney General's Office to seek voter signatures for a try at the 2016 ballot. Looking at September 2013, four measures had been certified for signature gathering for the 2014 ballot. 
Fast forward to September 2017 and the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment is the only proposal certified for the 2018 process. It was certified for signature gathering in October 2016.
"I must say I'm a bit surprised by this," said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College. 
Is this a natural ebb and flow or the product of a mid-term election? Barth offered his guess:
"I think what's happening is that grassroots groups are seeing their real challenge in getting things on the ballot and getting them passed. Groups with resources can wait a bit later to get started. I think we'll see a few more but they'll be later starting than in recent years," he said.
We went through our newsletter archive to see if there were fewer submissions, but it appears this year is not very different when looking strictly at the number of total submissions. All 31 submissions this year have been rejected, but that does not mean there were 31 different proposals. 
There is no limit on the number of times a person can submit a proposal to the Attorney General for review. Most initiatives are submitted several times before they are eligible to collect voter signatures. 
Ballot Issue Submissions to the Attorney General's Office 2013-2017
Certified Rejected Total
2013 8 29 37
2014 6 19 25
2015 11 20 31
2016 6 25 31
2017 0 31 31
Note: Submissions include referendums as well as initiated amendments 
and acts. The numbers are based on what was reported in the Public Policy
Center's monthly ballot issue newsletters, which started in 2013.
One grassroots group has tried more than a dozen times to pass muster with the Attorney General's Office on its marijuana legalization amendment, submitting slightly different proposals under different names and once even submitting nearly identical proposals by two different people in the same month. The most recent proposal was rejected twice in the time since our last newsletter. 

The ballot initiative process in Arkansas has multiple steps. First, supporters submit their proposed popular name and ballot title to the Attorney General for review. 
Only after the Attorney General's approval can supporters collect signatures from voters in support of putting the issue on the ballot. Those signatures are then turned in to the Secretary of State's Office for counting and verification. The deadline to submit signatures to the Secretary of State's Office is July 6, 2018.  
Regardless of what happens from the initiative side, voters will see two constitutional amendments from the legislature on their 2018 ballot. 
Find more information about Arkansas' 2018 ballot issues in our September ballot issue newsletter