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Arkansas Trial Court Strikes Down Six Restrictions Relating to Initiative Petitions

On February 28, an Arkansas Circuit Court declared that six new restrictions on the petitioning process that relate to initiatives and referenda violate the State Constitution. The State Constitution says, “No law shall be passed…in any manner interfering with the freedom of the people in procuring petitions.” Here is the eleven-page opinion. The case is Spencer v Martin, Pulaski County, cv-13-4020. The restrictions had been passed in 2013.

The laws held to violate the State Constitution are: (1) the signer must fill out all blanks himself or herself, which includes printed name, signature, address, birth date, and date of signing; (2) when the sponsors submit a batch of signatures, the petitioning process must stop until the signatures are checked, and then it can start again; (3) the sponsor must submit a list of all paid circulators in advance, with the address of the circulator, and a picture of each petitioner that was taken less than 90 days ago; (4) an entire sheet is invalid if voters from two different counties signed that petition, unless all the signatures from residents of one of those counties are lined out; (5) the law that says a “paid circulator” means a circulator who was given anything of value.

Some of these laws might have been upheld if they weren’t so vague. There are many restrictions on paid circulators that are not applied to volunteer circulators, but plaintiffs argued that under the definition of “paid circulator”, even a volunteer who is given a bottle of water or a T-shirt (with a message about the initiative petition) would perhaps be considered “paid.” Also the law requiring voters to fill in all the blanks doesn’t apply if the voter is “disabled”, but that term is not defined. Thanks to Paul Jacob for this news.

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