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Kristin HigginsPublic Policy CenterPhone: 501-671-2160Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Kristin Higgins - July 20, 2020
Bonnie Miller, a Fayetteville resident representing Arkansas Voters First, filed the
lawsuit Friday. She submitted thousands of signatures July 6 for a proposed amendment that would change who creates political boundaries for Arkansas’ state legislators
and U.S. representatives. The group also submitted signatures for a proposed amendment that would allow all candidates for certain offices to appear on the same primary
ballot and in the general election, allow voters to rank their top four choices.
Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston on July 14 notified Arkansas Voters First that
their petitions were invalid. Accompanying paperwork for the paid canvassers who collected
voter signatures was flawed and the flaw meant he could not count any of the signatures.
What was the flaw? Submitted paperwork indicated criminal background checks for the
paid canvassers were acquired and not that they had passed the required background
checks. Thurston sent the same notice to sponsors of a third proposed amendment seeking to expand the number of casinos in Arkansas.
His reasoning follows a special judge’s opinion in a lawsuit challenging the placement
of a referendum on the statewide ballot. Judge Mark Hewett said in his July 13 report
that more than 51,000 signatures submitted by a campaign seeking a referendum on Act
579 should not count because of the “acquired” terminology for canvassers.
“The Secretary of State’s summation of the certifications provided by paid canvassers
for Arkansas Voters First and Open Primaries Arkansas is conveniently incomplete.
Notably, the certifications paid canvassers for Arkansas Voters First and Open Primaries
Arkansas provided each indicated that they were in compliance with Ark. Code Ann 7-9-601,”
the lawsuit filed July 17 states.
The lawsuit also calls the decision contradictory because Thurston counted the signatures
filed for the referendum last year submitted with the same paperwork.
“Said contradictory approaches reflect that, rather than fulfill the duties of his
job, the Secretary of State has instead decided to rely upon sophistry in an attempt
to thwart the statewide initiative process,” the complaint states.
Miller is also asking the court to grant them 30 days to collect additional voter
signatures for a second batch of petitions to be submitted. This practice is known
as a “cure period” and allows ballot issue groups more time to gather signatures in
case some of the initial ones wind up being invalid. Signatures can be deemed invalid
for a number of reasons, such as being a duplicate, illegible, or the signer is not
a registered voter.
The statewide ballot must be certified and provided to counties by Aug. 20, a month
In a response filed today, Thurston denies he failed to perform his duties and that
the state law he cited speaks for itself. It's unclear whether the signatures are
being counted but the reply to the Arkansas Supreme Court seems to indicate some basic
counting is taking place:
"9. Thurston denies that he has failed to perform his duties required by Ark. Code
Ann. § 7-9-126. Starting July 6, 2020, when three petitions were submitted to the
Secretary of State’s Office, Thurston began the statutory intake procedures for a
facial analysis of the petitions. As of the date of this filing, Thurston continues
the intake procedures for all three petitions, well within the statutory 30-days allowed
by the statute.
10. Thurston states that Ark. Code Ann. § 126(a) speaks for itself. As stated in the
previous paragraph, Thurston is currently performing an initial count of the signatures
in order to determine whether or not the petitions, on their face, contain the designated
number of signatures required by the Arkansas Constitution and statutory law in order
to certify the measure for the election ballot."
The reply also includes:
21. Thurston denies that his decision not to validate whether or not the signatures
on the two petitions submitted by Arkansas Voters First are of registered voters is
a violation of Ark. Code Ann. § 7-9-126. Furthermore, the intake analysis of the two
petitions is ongoing (the Secretary is statutorily provided with 30 days from July
6, 2020), thus it is possible that one or both of the petitions submitted by Arkansas
Voters First could fail for other reasons, including not having enough facially valid
signatures after the statutorily provided culling procedures that make up the intake
Follow the court case, CV-20-454 - BONNIE MILLER V JOHN THURSTON SOS, online at https://caseinfo.arcourts.gov/cconnect/PROD/public/ck_public_qry_doct.cp_dktrpt_frames?backto=P&case_id=CV-20-454&begin_date=&end_date=.
Arkansas Wins in 2020, the group seeking to expand the number of casinos in Arkansas,
sent a letter Monday to the Secretary of State saying they had submitted the appropriate paperwork
in an email on July 6. An attorney for the group asked Thurston to withdraw his letter
of insufficiency to them.
Arkansas is one of 15 states where citizens can propose a constitutional amendment
or state law for voters to decide. Proposed amendments need 89,151 signatures to qualify
for the ballot. Arkansas Voters First submitted 98,728 ballots for the redistricting
proposal and 94,913 signatures for the ranked choice voting proposal.
As of July 20, only a sales tax proposal known as Issue 1 is uncontested. Issue 2,
involving term limits for legislators, and Issue 3, involving changes to the citizen
initiative process, are being challenged in court. The three proposals were referred
by the legislature.
Find more information about the 2020 ballot measures at uaex.uada.edu/ballot.