On March 7, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed House Bill 1419 (HB 1419), which increases the signature distribution requirement for citizen initiatives.
Under HB 1419, campaigns will be required to collect signatures from 50 of 75 (67%) counties.
State Sen. Jim Dotson (R-34), a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “The purpose of this would be to ensure that we’re getting representation from all across the state, not just large urban areas but rural counties as well, and having a lot of input into the process.”
Previously, the requirement was 15 of 75 (20%) counties.
For citizen-initiated state statutes, the signature requirement is equal to 4% of the votes cast for governor in each of at least 50 of 75 counties.
For citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, the requirement is equal to 5% of the votes cast for governor in these counties.
The House approved the bill 79-19 and the Senate approved it 21-8. Republicans hold a 82-18 majority in the House and a 29-6 majority in the Senate.
State Sen. Bryan King (D-28) and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas sued Secretary of State John Thurston (R), asking the 6th Judicial Circuit Court to rule HB 1419 unconstitutional. Plaintiffs noted that Article V of the Arkansas Constitution establishes the 15-of-75 counties requirement, while HB 1419 is a statute. According to the plaintiffs, this means that HB 1419 is effectively modifying the state constitution, which a bill cannot do. Amending the constitution would require voter approval.
Of the 26 states that have initiatives or referenda, Arkansas is one of 16 with a signature distribution requirement. The other 10 states do not have distribution requirements.
Arkansas’ new requirement that signatures come from 67% of counties means it is tied with Wyoming as the state with the sixth largest distribution requirement for initiated statutes and 7th for initiated constitutional amendments.
Previously, Arkansas’ 20% requirement was the second smallest, just behind Maryland (8% of counties).
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