A lawsuit filed Monday against the Arkansas secretary of state seeks to invalidate two ballot measures -- proposed constitutional amendments -- saying the ballot titles don't give voters enough information to make informed decisions.
The measures, two of three proposed in 2019 by the state Legislature for the Nov. 3 general election ballot, include a term-limits proposal and proposed changes to the process for citizens to put their initiated constitutional amendments and laws on the ballot.
The lawsuit was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of Tom Steele by his attorney, David Couch, and names Secretary of State John Thurston. Steele, of Little Rock, is chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits committee.
Couch said he's asking the court to take the two measures off the ballot.
"The General Assembly has referred two measures, neither one of them are adequately described as what they do, how they affect the current law, and, because of that, it's really just deceptive," Couch said Monday afternoon.
Couch said the ballot titles are misleading and insufficient. Issue 2, the term-limits proposal, would actually do away with term limits, and Issue 3, the proposal on changing the initiative process, would actually make it harder to get measures on the ballot, he said.
"Those two measures don't have what is called a ballot title on them, and a ballot title tells voters exactly what they're voting for, so when they go to vote, they'll know that the term-limits amendment basically does away with term limits," Couch said. "And the initiative and referendum amendment, what it does is basically changes the initiative and referendum process to make it much more difficult for citizens to do."
Chris Powell, a spokesman for Thurston, said in an email that the office would have no immediate comment on the lawsuit late Monday afternoon.
"The Attorney General will review the complaint to determine the next step," Amanda Priest, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said in an email response.
During the 2019 regular session, the Legislature voted to refer to voters a proposed amendment that would make it more difficult for Arkansans to qualify proposed initiated acts and constitutional amendments for the ballot. The proposal also would increase the vote threshold for the House and Senate to refer proposed amendments to voters.
The proposed amendment, contained in House Joint Resolution 1008, would require initiative petitions to have a certain percentage of valid signatures of registered voters from each of 45 counties. The Arkansas Constitution now sets that minimum at 15 of the state's 75 counties.
The proposal would eliminate the 30-day cure period, which gives more time to gather signatures if the sponsor of a proposed ballot measure falls short. The proposal also would require a three-fifths vote -- up from the current majority vote -- in the House and Senate to refer a proposed amendment to voters.
The Legislature also referred to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit future state lawmakers to serving a dozen consecutive years and then allow them to return to office after a break of four years. The proposal was in Senate Joint Resolution 15.
Under Amendment 94, approved by voters in 2014, lawmakers are limited to 16 years, with senators able to serve longer because of adjustments for redistricting. Amendment 94 loosened limits set in a previous amendment.
A third amendment proposed by the Legislature, but not part of Monday's suit, would make permanent the 0.5% sales tax that raises money for highways.