UACES Facebook AG Rejects Wording of Abortion, Paper Ballot Issues
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AG Rejects Wording of Abortion, Paper Ballot Issues

by Kristin Higgins - December 1, 2023

Arkansas Ballot Issue Education Newsletter header

Five years ago, when the Attorney General was last in charge of certifying ballot issue titles, citizen initiative groups had already raised over $1 million for their campaigns.
As of this month, no ballot issue group has reported raising or spending any funds ahead of the 2024 general election. There has been a flurry of activity though this month with multiple groups submitting proposed constitutional amendments to the Attorney General's Office.
Below is a summary of where potential 2024 ballot issues stand.

Who Can Collect Signatures Right Now?

The Arkansas Period Poverty Project is the only citizen initiative campaign approved for signature gathering in the state.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin certified the 75-word ballot title on Oct. 10
The group, which seeks to eliminate sales taxes on menstrual products and diapers, filed their campaign paperwork with the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Nov. 14.
The deadline to submit petitions with voter signatures to qualify an issue for the ballot is July 5, 2024. Ballot issue groups must collect a certain number of voter signatures from at least 50 of the state's 75 counties.

Freedom of Information Act Transparency

After holding multiple public meetings on a proposal to strengthen the state's Freedom of Information Act, Arkansas Citizens for Transparency members submitted their final draft Nov. 27 to the Attorney General's Office.
The Attorney General's Office has 10 business days to respond.
The proposal would require the legislature to refer to voters any new law that would make a "government or public process, public meeting, public notice, or public record less transparent to the people." The proposed amendment also would clarify that the public can sue the state for failing to comply with laws requiring transparency.
The group expects to file a proposed state law at a later date, said David Couch, an attorney working on both proposals with various organizations.
The 11-page draft of a proposed state law would define public meeting, repeal a recent law allowing attorneys into private meetings of school board members, and create a commission responsible for helping people access public records.
The Freedom of Information Act is a chapter of law establishing public records and meeting requirements. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller signed the act into law in 1967.

Abortion Amendment

Delayed by Veterans Day and a two-day Thanksgiving holiday, the Attorney General's Office on Nov. 28 notified sponsors of The Arkansas Reproductive Healthcare Amendment that their ballot title was rejected.
The proposed amendment seeks to prevent the state from restricting access to abortion up to 18 weeks after conception, or access to abortion in situations of rape, fatal fetal anomalies, or to protect the health of the pregnant woman.
Deputy Attorney General Ryan Owsley, who wrote Opinion No. 2023-107 on behalf of the office, pointed out issues in four sections of the proposal. The meaning of "access" and "health" could be read differently and needed clarification. The opinion also said the popular name "is tinged with partisan coloring and misleading because your proposal is solely related to abortion, not "reproductive healthcare" generally."
Two Little Rock residents and a nonprofit advocacy group called For AR People filed paperwork with the Arkansas Ethics Commission to support the constitutional amendment as a ballot issue group named Arkansans for Limited Government.
Arkansas legislators passed Act 180 in 2019, which bans abortion in the state except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.

Paper Ballots and Absentee Voting

A ballot issue group formed earlier this year received word Wednesday, Nov. 29, that both their election-related titles needed revising.
Led by Conrad Reynolds, Restore Election Integrity Arkansas submitted a constitutional amendment to require elections to be conducted with paper ballots and another one to establish absentee voting procedures in the state constitution.
The proposal to require voting on paper ballots had several definitions and sections that needed clarifying, according to Opinion No. 2023-108. The opinion also mentioned that using the word "integrity" in the long popular name and "free, fair and secure elections" in the ballot title was "partisan coloring."
In rejecting the absentee voting procedure proposal, the Attorney General's Office cited conflicts between it and election laws involving voters with disabilities and residents overseas.
Though not the main focus of the proposal, the group's absentee voting amendment would allow people who are incarcerated to vote with an absentee ballot. Both proposals would also prohibit online voting.