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New Law Requires Ballot Issue Groups to Pay Back State

by Kristin Higgins - May 17, 2017


The Secretary of State's Office paid more than $1.7 million last year to advertise Arkansas' ballot measures, a cost they expect to partially recoup in future years after the recent passage of Act 982.

Act 982 requires that sponsors of initiated acts and amendments pay the state back for publishing notice of their ballot measures in newspapers. The legislation amended Arkansas Code 7-9-113.
"Our office has made significant efforts in recent years to cut costs in our budget and save money in different areas," said Chris Powell, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office. "And this was something that was identified that was a significant cost to the state, to publish these ballot measures that are funded by private entities usually. The legislature took a look at it and passed this bill." 

Arkansas Code 7-9-113 required the Secretary of State to publish a notice in two weekly issues of a newspaper in each county. One of those notices included the measure's popular name, ballot title and complete text.
Last year, Arkansans faced the possibility of voting on seven ballot measures on the November 2016 ballot. Last-minute court decisions reduced the number of ballot measures to four on Election Day, but the Secretary of State's Office had already published information for all the ballot measures. 
"It's not chump change," Powell said.
In 2012, publishing the notices for legislative and citizen-initiated measures cost the Secretary of State's Office $1.3 million. The cost was similar in 2014. The Secretary of State has an annual budget of $19.6 million, Powell said.
Going forward, sponsors of initiated measures on the statewide ballot will be required to reimburse the state within 30 days of notification of the final cost for publishing their individual measure. Act 982 requires that notices for legislatively-referred measures still include the full text, but measures initiated by ballot groups can include a link to the full wording.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed Act 982 to become law without his signature, telling the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette that "it increases the costs for citizens who initiate ballot measures."
The act's sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, told the newspaper that he wanted special interest groups promoting ballot measures to pay the cost instead of taxpayers.
How much it cost to advertise individual ballot measures in 2016 isn't known - Powell said the state was billed by the Arkansas Press Association for total publication cost versus per amendment. According to expense reports filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana spent $18,539 of the $885,155 it raised last year on advertising for the successful Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.
As of May, only one group has approval from the Attorney General to collect signatures for a potential 2018 ballot measure. The deadline for citizen-led proposals is not until next summer. 
Legislators in the House and Senate voted to put two of their own proposed constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot. More information about those two proposals can be found in our May ballot issue newsletter.
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The Public Policy Center has published nonpartisan fact sheets on Arkansas' statewide ballot issues since 2004. We welcome your questions at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter