Arkansas redistricting group seeks easing of petition rules

April 22, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A group trying to get a redistricting proposal on Arkansas’ ballot filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking more time to submit its petitions, saying the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible to collect the signatures needed.

The federal lawsuit by Arkansas Voters First also asked the state to waive its requirement that signatures be witnessed in person and to allow signatures be submitted electronically.

The group currently faces a July 3 deadline to submit at least 89,151 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the November ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment would put a nine-member commission in charge of redrawing congressional and legislative districts.


The lawsuit asks that its deadline be pushed back a month to August 3.

The initiative campaign was launched on March 5, less than a week before Arkansas announced its first coronavirus case. The lawsuit says the state’s restrictions, including bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, has effectively halted its canvassing efforts. The group said it’s gathered less than 100 signatures.

“Absent an injunction against the state’s restrictions, the proposed amendment will be eliminated from the ballot in a critical year for the amendment’s actual substantive goal, which is to establish an Independent Redistricting Commission in Arkansas,” the lawsuit said.

A spokesman for Secretary of State John Thurston, named as the defendant in the lawsuit, did not have an immediate comment on the case.

Arkansas’ legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years by a panel comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. The state’s U.S. House district lines are redrawn by the Legislature. Republicans hold all statewide partisan offices and a majority of both chambers of the Legislature.