Arkansas initiative bids turn in signatures amid pandemic
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Supporters of proposals to overhaul Arkansas’ redistricting process, create “ranked choice” voting for most offices and allow more casinos submitted thousands of signatures Monday, despite a global pandemic that initiative campaigns say hampered petition efforts.
Monday was the deadline for initiative campaigns to turn in their petitions to qualify for the November ballot. The proposed constitutional amendments need at least 89,151 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify.
Arkansas Voters First said it submitted 98,728 signatures for its proposed constitutional amendment on redistricting. The group said it submitted another couple thousand signatures that remain in limbo after a federal appeals court stayed a judge’s ruling that a witness wasn’t needed for petition signatures. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments over that decision this week.
“We’re really excited and we think it’s a testament to how passionate Arkansans are about getting an independent redistricting commission in Arkansas that we could turn out that number of signatures during a global pandemic,” said Bonnie Miller, the group’s chairwoman.
With most large gatherings like fairs and farmers markets shut down because of the coronavirus, the group had to find other ways to collect signatures. Miller said that included “drive-up” signing events around the state.
The Arkansas Voters First proposal is among several redistricting initiatives supporters are trying to put before voters this year. The group’s proposal would put a nine-member commission in charge of redrawing congressional and legislative districts.
Arkansas’ congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years by the state Legislature, which is majority-Republican. Legislative districts are redrawn by a three-person panel comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, who are all Republicans.
Open Primaries Arkansas submitted 94,913 signatures for its proposal to create a ranked-choice open primary system. Under the group’s proposal, candidates for most offices would run in a single open primary and the top four candidates would advance to the general election. Voters would then rank their top choices one through four.
Arkansas Wins in 2020 submitted 97,039 signatures for its proposal to require the state to issue 16 casino licenses. Arkansas voters in 2018 approved an amendment legalizing casinos in four counties, including at a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track.
Election officials have 30 days to review the signatures collected. If they fall short but have at least 75 percent of the signatures needed overall and from 15 counties, they qualify for additional time to circulate petitions. The state Board of Election Commissioners must also approve the proposals’ wording to qualify for the ballot.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo