LWV Arkansas and Republican state Senator Bryan King filed a state court lawsuit against new restrictions on ballot measures, asserting they violated the Arkansas constitution. The restrictions greatly increased the number of counties from which initiative supporters were required to gather signatures and removed the opportunity to cure or amend ballot initiatives that did not satisfy the conditions for being added to the ballot.
Arkansas allows voters to pass laws and amend the state constitution through the ballot initiative process. Article 5 Section 1 of Arkansas’ constitution requires supporters of a ballot initiative to gather at least half of the required petition signatures from at least 15 counties. Signatures from 8% of legal voters and 10% of legal voters are required to place laws and state constitutional amendments on the ballot, respectively. The percentages are calculated based on the total number of votes cast for governor in the last election.
The constitution also requires that election officials allow supporters of a ballot initiative to amend or correct one that does not meet legal requirements, so long as at least 75% of the petition signatures from the statewide total, or from at least 15 counties are valid. The Arkansas constitution also forbids the legislature from restricting pay for petition circulators, banning the circulation of petitions, or obtaining petitions. The legislature is permitted to pass laws preventing perjury, forgery, and other fraudulent practices from affecting petitions. Finally, the constitution specifies the legislature may not pass laws impairing the ballot initiative process.
Under Act 236 of 2023, supporters of a ballot initiative must now gather signatures from at least 50 counties, two-thirds of the 75 counties in the state. Furthermore, the act directs election officials to forbid amending or correcting ballot initiatives that do not satisfy the required number of counties or signatures if the deadline for filing petitions has passed.
On March 10, 2023, the League of Women Voters of Arkansas (LWV Arkansas), together with Republican state Senator Bryan King, filed a lawsuit in the Pulaski County circuit court. The lawsuit asserted that Act 236 was unconstitutional in several ways. First, it effectively amended the constitution by increasing the number of counties from which petitions must originate from 15 to 50, directly contradicting the text of Article 5, Section 1. Second, the lawsuit argued the increase in required counties violated the constitution’s ban on impairing the ballot initiative process by making it harder for ballot initiatives to qualify for the ballot. Thirdly, the passage of the act itself was unconstitutional, as the legislature was attempting to change the constitution with a statute instead of following the prescribed constitutional amendment process.
The League is represented by David Couch in this matter.
Act 236 of 2023 becomes law
Governor Sarah Huckabee-Sanders signs Act 236 of 2023 into law. The act imposes new barriers to ballot initiatives.
LWV Arkansas files lawsuit
LWV Arkansas and Republican state Senator Bruce King file suit, asserting the new restrictions on ballot initiative petitions violate the Arkansas constitution.