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Kristin HigginsPublic Policy CenterPhone: 501-671-2160Email: email@example.com
by Kristin Higgins - November 15, 2023
Special elections are now history in Arkansas. Voters across the state in a handful
of communities decided special elections Tuesday, including whether to build a new
fire station, expand a jail, or to build a water park.
Election results were mixed and voter turnout was low. That low voter turnout is one
reason legislators passed Act 300 in the 2023 Arkansas legislative session to require
local ballot issues be on the spring or fall ballot with candidates unless there is
"Local governments in Arkansas have used special elections held at irregular times
consistently to raise taxes on our citizens. And in many instances this is a deliberate
strategy aimed at keeping turnout low so that the folks who do show up are those with
a vested interest in the passage of that measure," said Rep. David Ray, the bill's sponsor during the legislative session.
There is not a central database of local elections in Arkansas. According to an informal
Secretary of State list, at least four Arkansas counties asked voters for input on
sales tax proposals. Various news websites show there were a few more local ballot
issue elections than what had been reported to the state.
Voters rejected the proposals in three communities and approved new funding in two
communities. Turnout in each election was drastically smaller than the number of registered
voters in those communities.
Both taxes failed by a vote of 1,490 to 1,959 for the temporary general sales tax,
and 1,560 to 1,763 for the police and fire sales tax.
Pine Bluff voters rejected the same two proposals in a May 2023 special election,
with that election attracting a few hundred more voters.
Research from the University of Central Arkansas reflects that between 1981 and 2020, 82%
of local sales tax elections took place during special elections. Another 14% took
place during fall general elections.
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, communities will have only two dates they can propose issues
Act 300 allows cities and counties to hold an election on a different date in case
of emergency. The law defines an emergency to mean that: