Arkansas Ballot Initiatives and Referendums
For more than 80 years, Arkansas’s unique system of direct democracy has allowed citizens to create laws affecting their lives through the initiative and referendum processes. This includes legislatively referred state statutes and citizen-initiated constitutional amendments.
Three years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to restrict ballot measures. Now, Republicans are trying again.
A constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to call themselves into special sessions upon a joint proclamation of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore or two-thirds of the members of each chamber. Currently, only the governor can call a special legislative session.
Farm Bureau opposes this issue because it will encourage Arkansas’ elected officials to seek jobs in other states where special legislative sessions are not required or allowed, thus further reducing the number of Arkansans who can represent their fellow citizens in our state government. It also threatens to diminish the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government.
This amendment amends the constitution to prevent the state and local governments from interfering with religion, prohibiting courts from “undermining” religious freedom. Farm Bureau believes the constitution already protects religious freedom in our state and that this proposed constitutional amendment is unnecessary.
During the 20 years between 2000 and 2020, voters passed 40 proposals to amend the state constitution or create new laws through the ballot initiative process. The state constitution currently requires a simple majority vote to pass these citizen-led initiatives. In 2022, the legislature proposed a change to that threshold that voters will decide on Nov. 8. Issue 2 would require that a 60% supermajority of voters approve constitutional amendments and citizen-initiated state statutes that are legislatively referred to the ballot by the legislature.
Ray says a 60% vote requirement would prevent out-of-state interests from controlling state laws and help ensure that policy changes are made with broad consensus. But opponents say the measure goes too far and would make it harder for citizens to put forward their ideas.
The League of Women Voters of Arkansas has filed a lawsuit against the bill. It alleges that the legislation violates the state constitution by increasing the number of counties from which petition signatures must originate to 50 from 15. The group Protect AR Right is launching a digital campaign against the measure.
In addition to voting for politicians to represent them in the state Legislature, Arkansas citizens have the right of direct democracy to propose laws they think should be on the ballot. This includes constitutional amendments and statutes.
Issue 3 would change how those proposed measures are approved. It would require more signatures to get a measure on the ballot and remove a requirement that bills and constitutional amendments be published in each county. It also makes it easier to file lawsuits challenging a ballot initiative.
ArFB opposes this measure because it weakens checks and balances. It also encourages out-of-state interests to meddle in our democratic process and could lead to a constitutional crisis when the legislature would be required to convene by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. In addition, the higher signature requirements could deter candidates from running for office because of concerns about a busy workload. That’s bad for the economy and bad for the state.
Three years ago, when Arkansas voters rejected several progressive initiatives like medical marijuana and the minimum wage, Republican politicians promised to make it more difficult for citizens to place their own measures on the ballot. This month, they sneaked that measure into a regular bill and pushed it through the legislature without voters knowing.
The new law, Act 236, changes how signatures are collected on an initiative or referendum petition by increasing the number of counties from which signatures must originate to 50. It also allows the attorney general to review a petition title before it’s circulated.
Supporters say it’s needed to keep government from burdening religious liberty. Opponents argue that it could be used to deny abortion rights, saying that Roe v. Wade’s overturning has left the door open for this possibility. They also say it will make it harder for businesses that require sobriety to hire workers.