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Senate committee endorses bill to raise signature requirements for ballot initiatives

by Michael R. Wickline | February 16, 2023 at 3:40 p.m.
Movers Theo Reed (left) and Joe Mathews unload boxes of signatures from Arkansas Voters First on Monday, July 6, 2020, at the secretary of state’s office in Little Rock. The group was seeking a constitutional amendment that would establish an independent redistricting commission.

An Arkansas Senate committee on Thursday endorsed a bill that would more than triple the number of counties required for groups that are collecting signatures to qualify measures for the general election ballot.

The Arkansas Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee sent Senate Bill 260 by Sen. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, to the Senate over the objections of opponents who contend the bill is unconstitutional. Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, dissented.

The bill would require sponsors of ballot initiatives to collect sufficient signatures from at least 50 counties, up from the current requirement of 15 counties.

SB260 also would increase the required number of signatures from these counties from one-half to three-fourths of the designated percentage of registered voters who cast ballots in the previous gubernatorial election. Sponsors of proposed initiated acts are required to obtain a number of valid signatures equal to at least 8% of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election to qualify their proposal for the ballot, while sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments are required to obtain a number of signatures equal to at least 10% of the votes cast in that election.

Supporters of the proposal said it would require sponsors of ballot measures to get more statewide support and rural buy-in for ballot measures. But opponents said the proposal would make it more difficult to get proposed ballot measures on the ballot, and would violate the Arkansas Constitution.

After the vote, Dotson said he believes his bill is constitutional.

In the 2020 general election, voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required sponsors of proposed ballot measures to obtain enough valid signatures from each of 45 counties, also up from the current minimum of 15.


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