Kristin Higgins Public Policy Center Phone: 501-671-2160 Email: email@example.com
Office: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service 2301 S. University Avenue Little Rock, AR 72204
Lawsuit Filed to Extend Voter Signature Deadline and to Allow Virtual Canvassing
by Kristin Higgins - May 6, 2020
A group wanting to change the process for drawing congressional and legislative districts
in Arkansas recently filed a federal lawsuit seeking additional time to collect voter
signatures for their ballot measure citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thelawsuitfiled this month by Arkansas Voters First also asks for the ability to collect voter
signatures electronically. Arkansas law requires ballot issue signatures to be collected
on paper petitions, and that petitions be witnessed as well as signed by notaries
public before they are turned in to the Secretary of State's Office.
Supporters of the constitutional amendment said it would be impossible to collect
the required 89,151 valid voter signatures with hundreds of event and festival cancellations
this spring and social distancing requirements.
A certain percentage of these signatures must be collected from at least 15 Arkansas
counties. (Issue 3 on this year's ballot would increase that requirement to 45 counties
for future elections.)
Ballot issue groups often collect thousands of more signatures than required to make
up for duplicate signatures, illegible signatures or non-voters signing the petitions.
State officials have said they can't change deadline requirements. Arkansas' Constitution
requires ballot issue petitions be turned in at least four months before the election.
The deadline to submit signatures for 2020 ballot measures is July 3. The Secretary
of State has 30 days to verify the signatures and until the end of August to certify
the ballot for Arkansas' 75 counties.
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to give ballot issue groups until Aug. 3 to collect
the required voter signatures. No court date has been set though attorneys and the
judge have been reviewing motions filed in the lawsuit.
After every federal Census, Arkansas legislators redraw congressional districts for
the four U.S. Representatives based on new population information. Districts are supposed
to have an equal number of people living within them. Arkansas' process was created
by Amendment 23 in 1936. Voters amended the process again through the citizen initiative
process in 1956 with the passage of Amendment 45.
The governor, secretary of state and attorney general are responsible for drawing
135 state legislative district boundaries. These maps determine who Arkansas' state
and congressional leaders represent and who voters will see on their ballots. These
maps are why voters living on opposite sides of a street may have a different legislator
representing them, or why counties may have multiple representatives due to how the
districts are divided.
The federal Census is currently under way, andredistrictingis expected to start in 2021. The next Census won't take place until 2030.
The proposalis one of 13 proposed ballot measures submitted to the Secretary of State for the
November 2020 ballot. Supporters for eight proposals have filed paperwork with the
Arkansas Ethics Commission indicating they were raising or spending money on the measure.
See our "Signature Collecting" section in this newsletter for a list of the 13 ballot
Arkansas is one of 15 states that allows citizens to propose constitutional amendments,
state laws and referendums. None of the other states allow for digital signature collecting
for ballot measures, according toBallotpedia, a website tracking ballot measures.
Ballotpedia shows that sponsors of at least 10 other ballot measure campaigns in five
states have asked for relief from signature requirements. Results so far have been
mixed, with two requests being rejected in the U.S. District Court of Arizona due
to the state constitution requiring signatures be collected in person.
Groups that had started canvassing in Arkansas have mostly stopped. Some groups have
urged their volunteers and supporters through social media to request individual petitions
to sign, but the petitions must be signed by notaries public who may not be available.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson'sexecutive ordersigned earlier this month suspended in-person requirements for some notary public
signatures but that order did not apply to ballot issue petitions.
A proposed ballot issue submitted to the Secretary of State's Office in December seeks
to allow digital signatures, but the supporter of that measure hadn't started collecting
the required voter signatures before the pandemic started.
Ballot Measures on Arkansas' November Ballot
It's uncertain whether any ballot measure from the public can make it on this year's
ballot due to the pandemic and social distancing. 2010 was the last time no measures
from the public appeared on the ballot.
Arkansas legislators have referred three amendments to voters and a group collected
enough signatures for a referendum on a 2019 state law.