FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A comprehensive, non-partisan voter education guide provided by the University of Arkansas System breaks down each issue on the ballot for state voters, including the oft-discussed Issues 2 and 3.
“Our voter guide goes into a lot more history, context,” said Kristin Higgins, the UA System’s Division of Agriculture Program Associate who compiled the information. “It really summarizes the issues and gives voters a better idea of what’s being asked of them.”
Arkansas voters have three issues on their ballots this election cycle. The first issue asks voters to approve a permanent 0.5% state sales tax that currently funds state, county and city road work. Issues 2 and 3 are less clear in how they’re presented on the ballot and have subsequently been challenged in court.
A lawsuit calling them unclear or too broad was tossed out by the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday, while at least one more lawsuit is still pending. Higgins said she expects this to also fail.
“Opponents thought the ballot titles didn’t explain to voters enough about what they would do, and so they filed a lawsuit challenging the issues, seeking to have them removed,” Higgins said.
Issue 2 is known as the “Arkansas Term Limits Amendment”, and it asks voters to eliminate lifetime term limits for state legislators. Legislators can currently serve 16 years, either consecutively or not, and that’s the limit. Should this pass, they could serve only 12 consecutive years, but after a four-year break, they could run again. The lifetime term limit would be gone.
The guide lists the details as follows:
- Eliminate life-time term limits for state legislators.
- Prohibit future legislators from serving more than 12 years in a row. Legislators who serve the full 12 years consecutively would be allowed to hold office again once four years have passed since their last term expired.
- Include two-year senate terms resulting from apportionment after a census in calculating the years of consecutive service for legislators elected after Jan. 1, 2021. Currently, this two-year partial term does not count toward term limits.
- Allow current legislators and any legislators elected this November to serve under the current term limit amendment, which allows them to serve 16 years consecutively or non-consecutively. They would be eligible to hold office in the future once four years have passed from their last term expiring.
“Supporters say that they realize Arkansans like having term limits in place, so they want to tweak the term limits and recognize that maybe 16 years might be too much,” Higgins said.
Higgins said opponents say lifetime limits are a good power check on elected officials, while some don’t want limits at all, thinking that elections themselves can serve as a term limit if voters decide a legislator isn’t worth reelecting.
Issue 3 is known as the “Changing Arkansas’ Citizen Initiative Process, Votes Required for Legislative Ballot Issue Proposals and Publication Requirements Amendment.” It calls for an overhaul of the requirements for non-legislators to get an issue on the ballot, making it a much-more tedious and difficult process with more regulations.
The guide lists the details as follows:
- Change the date when voter signatures are due for statewide ballot measures proposed by the public. Instead of four months ahead of the general election, the due date would be set as January 15 of the election year.
- Increase the number of counties where voter signatures must be collected for statewide ballot measures and referendums proposed by the public, from 15 counties to 45 counties.
- Establish April 15 of the election year as the deadline for filing lawsuits challenging statewide ballot measures proposed by the public.
- Eliminate the ability of statewide ballot issue groups to collect and submit additional signatures from voters to put a proposed constitutional amendment, state law or referendum on the ballot if the first round of signatures submitted to the Secretary of State does not meet the threshold. This is often called a “cure period.”
- Eliminate the cure period for local ballot measures on a city or county-wide ballot if the first round of signatures submitted to the city or county clerk does not meet the threshold.
- Eliminate a section requiring that a person challenging the validity of a ballot issue petition in court has the burden to prove the petition is invalid. The impact of this change is not clear.
- Add a sentence to the constitution that extends a deadline that falls on a weekend or holiday, to the next day that isn’t a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.
- Increase the number of votes needed by state legislators to refer a constitutional amendment to voters, from a simple majority of legislators in each house of the General Assembly to 3/5 of the members in each house. This is a change from 50% to 60% of legislators in each house.
- Delete a requirement that constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature be published in a newspaper in each county for six months ahead of the election. Instead, the proposed amendment would be published “in a manner provided by law.” No additional definition is provided.
- Delete a requirement that proposed constitutional amendments affecting the salary of statewide elected officials and legislators be published in a newspaper in each county for six months ahead of the election. Similar to proposed changes to Article 19 listed above, an amendment proposed under this section would be published “in a matter provided by law.” No additional definition is provided.
- Add a sentence to the constitution that would require constitutional amendments proposed under this section to comply with requirements in Article 19, Section 22. This would effectively increase the number of votes needed by state legislators to refer salary-based constitutional amendments to voters from a simple majority of legislators in each house to 3/5 of all members in each house. This is a change from 50% to 60% of legislators in each house.
Opponents of this amendment cite additional steps added to an already-burdened process, Higgins said.
“They see issue three as going overboard, being too restrictive,” Higgins said.
Bonnie Miller is the President of the Washington County League of Women Voters, and she said a push to get an independent redistricting commission on the ballot gave her an up-close view of the difficulties grassroots groups face.
“Even with a lot of support, a lot of volunteers, it is a huge undertaking,” Miller said. “It’s already virtually impossible to get on the ballot, and I’m saying that from experience.”
Miller said the League of Women Voters urges Arkansans to vote against Issue 3, adding that it consolidates power with those who already have it and threatens democracy.
Arkansas is one of 15 states where citizens can refer a constitutional amendment, meaning legislators don’t hold a monopoly on doing so. Higgins said supporters think the Arkansas Constitution should be harder to change.
“Supporters say that Arkansas’ constitution should be more difficult to amend,” Higgins said.
Other supporters think out-of-state groups have too much influence on Arkansas politics, Higgins said, and that they take the autonomy away from Arkansans with an idea of, “spend some money, collect some signatures.”
The voter guide can be accessed online or picked up in a printed form that can be utilized at the polls.