FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — With early voting underway in Arkansas, and Election Day less than two weeks away, voters in The Natural State will have some ballot measures to consider in 2022.
But how do those measures make it to the ballot? And how much does it cost to get one there?
As Arkansas voters may already know, there are four measures on this year’s ballot, with each simply nicknamed Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 3, and Issue 4. The Arkansas State Legislature is able to refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot for each general election, and they did just that in 2022 with Issues 1, 2 and 3.
However, Issue 4—which would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults in Arkansas—went through an entirely different process to land in front of voters this November. The initiative was sponsored by Responsible Growth Arkansas and had to go through multiple steps before finally being certified.
Before 2019, the attorney general certified a petition and the measure’s ballot title and popular name before the petition was circulated for signature gathering. Now, that process takes place after signatures are collected.
An initiated constitutional amendment such as Issue 4 requires a petition with a number of signatures equal to at least 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. In 2022, that amounted to 89,151 for an amendment.
Additionally, at least five percent of that total must be collected in at least 15 Arkansas counties. This distribution requirement was created by Arkansas Amendment 7 in 1920.
Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted over twice the number of required signatures on July 8. Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston issued a Notification of Sufficiency on August 2, stating that the proposed amendment had met the signature requirement to appear on the ballot.
Later, the seemingly simple process of submitting a ballot title was a contentious one for Issue 4, with the issue ending up in the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Court overruled a State Board of Election Commissioners’ decision to decline to certify the amendment’s popular name and title, ordering that the issue be placed before voters in a September 22 decision.
“The Board had no authority to decline to certify the ballot title to the Secretary of State, and its action is without legal effect,” the opinion stated.
Arkansas’ Issue 4 was one of 30 measures across the nation that made it onto respective states’ ballots in this fashion in 2022. Collecting signatures may sound easy enough, but the process can be quite costly, with the total amounts spent collecting them and the average cost per signature varying wildly from state to state.
In fact, the price of getting Issue 4 on the Arkansas ballot had the highest “Cost-Per-Required-Signature” (CPRS) of any such measure in the U.S. in 2022. According to Ballotpedia, the average CPRS was $25.28, for a total cost of $2,253,440.30.
The second-highest CPRS was tallied for a similar recreational marijuana ballot measure in Missouri ($21.33). The average CPRS across all states for marijuana amendments was $14.83, placing it in the middle of the pack compared to other issues.
Single-state measures regarding abortion ($22.57), tobacco ($21.98) and drug crime policy ($19.12) all cost more to collect required signatures. Issues including taxes ($8.94) alcohol ($6.42) and firearms ($1.47) saw much more affordable petitions.
In 2021, Arkansas banned paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures gathered. The petition must state whether or not the circulator is being paid or is a volunteer, and a report of all paid canvassers and officers must be filed.
Proponents of Issue 4 in Arkansas used multiple petition companies to help gather the signatures needed. KNWA reached out for comment on the costs associated with signature collection but did not receive a response.
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