The first power reserved by the people is the initiative…
The second power reserved by the people is the referendum – Arkansas Constitution Article 5, § 1
In 1910 the Arkansas Populist Party endorsed a legislatively referred amendment to allow citizens the right to alter the state constitution via initiative or referendum. Since then, Arkansans have vigorously practiced their right to direct democracy, bringing hundreds of initiatives to the ballot box. The 2020 election cycle will continue that tradition with several measures likely to be certified for November. Each initiative will be laid out in more detail over the next few months, but before covering the policies it is important to understand the process involved with bringing these issues to voters. There are three types of measures that could potentially end up on the 2020 ballot: legislatively referred constitutional amendments, citizen initiated constitutional amendments, and one veto referendum.
Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment (LRCA)
During the regular legislative session, state lawmakers are allowed to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot. In 2019 legislators filed dozens of proposed amendments and whittled the list down to three amendments for voters to decide on in November. As long as none of these amendments are struck down by the courts, they will appear on the ballot as the first three non-candidate measures for voter consideration.
Issue One is titled An Amendment To Continue a Levy of One-Half Percent Sales and Use Tax for the State’s Highway System, County Roads, and City Streets. Issue Two is The Arkansas Term Limits Amendment. Issue Three is titled An Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to Amend the Process for the Submission and Approval of Proposed Initiated Acts, Constitutional Amendments, and Referenda. Next month I will provide more in depth information on each amendment.
Citizen Initiated Constitutional Amendment (CICA)
A Citizen Initiated Constitutional Amendment (CICA) is one of the most popular forms of direct democracy. So far, 13 CICA measures have been submitted for circulation this year. In order to gain ballot access for a CICA the amendment sponsor must secure petition signatures from 89,151 registered Arkansas voters in at least 15 counties across the state. Before a petition can be circulated, the amendment sponsor must submit the draft of the bill, proposed ballot title, and popular name to the secretary of state’s office for approval. Once approved the amendment may then be circulated for signatures. All petitions must be submitted to the secretary of state no later than four months prior to the election. That deadline is July 3 for the 2020 election cycle.
Prior to verification of signatures, the ballot language, title, and popular name are submitted to the state board of election commissioners. The board is tasked with verifying that the ballot title and popular name “is presented in a manner that is not misleading and not designed in such manner that a vote ‘FOR’ the issue would be a vote against the matter or viewpoint that the voter believes himself or herself casting a vote for, or, conversely, that a vote ‘AGAINST’ an issue would be a vote for a viewpoint that the voter is against.”
If the ballot title and popular name are approved, the next step is verifying that each signature matches the voter information on file for that signer. If the petition has at least 75 percent of the signatures required, the sponsor is allowed a “cure period” of 30 days to reach the threshold of 89,151 valid signatures.
A veto referendum is not a common issue on statewide ballots, but one measure has been certified for 2020 so it is worth mentioning here. The veto referendum is a measure that asks voters to uphold or overturn a state statute passed by the legislature. The path to the ballot is the same as a citizen initiated constitutional amendment, but with a lower signature requirement. For 2020 a petition containing at least 53,491 valid signatures from registered Arkansas voters must be submitted.
The veto referendum on the ballot in November is titled the Practice of Optometry Referendum and specifically addresses Act 579 of 2019. Look for more detailed information on this referendum in a later installment.l