Notes from the Campaign Trail: Citizen-led ballot initiatives at modern-day low

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 403 views 

The Public Policy Center of the UA Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service works to explain ballot issues from a non-partisan perspective during election years. The group has new analysis that shows there is only one potential citizen-led initiative that has passed Attorney General review to collect signatures for ballot consideration next year.

It is a term limits measure that can circulate petitions to qualify for the 2018 November ballot. Led by sponsor Thomas Steele of Little Rock, the proposal received AG approval in October 2016. The measure would return term limits to the previous settings prior to a voter change two cycles ago. The popular title reads:

“A proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning term limits for members of the Arkansas General Assembly; to provide that no person may be elected to more than three (3) two-year terms as a member of the House of Representatives, to more than two (2) four-year terms as a member of the Senate, or to any term that, if served, would cause the member to exceed a total of ten (10) years of service in the General Assembly…”

What’s interesting about this one measure, which still has a long ways to go, is how the citizen-led initiatives compare to previous cycles. Notes the Public Policy Center:

“At this time in 2015, nine proposed ballot issues had received certification from the Attorney General’s office to seek voter signatures for a try at the 2016 ballot. Looking at September 2013, four measures had been certified for signature gathering for the 2014 ballot.”

In 2014, six measures were eventually certified, the same number as in 2016.

The process for gaining ballot access for a constitutional amendment or ballot initiative is pretty standard: receive AG approval to collect signatures, then collect and submit by July the required number of voter signatures to be approved by the Secretary of State’s office.

State lawmakers are allowed to refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments for voter consideration. For 2018, legislators have offered just two proposals. They include SJR8 (tort reform) and HJR1016 (voter ID).


Another interesting factoid in the Public Policy Center analysis includes the totals of rejected potential ballot measures. These are unsuccessful efforts to gain Attorney General approval to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot. If you are rejected, you can continue to modify a proposal or start over and re-submit. Here are the rejections by year:

2013 – 29 rejections
2014 – 19
2015 – 20
2016 – 25
2017 – 31

One of the most prolific sponsors to get rejected is Mary L. Berry. Her petition submissions to legalize marijuana are consistently rejected by AG Leslie Rutledge mostly “due to ambiguities in the text of the proposed measure.”

Berry was recently rejected for a proposed constitutional amendment concerning recreational cannabis.

Since taking office in 2015, AG Rutledge’s staff has reviewed 32 submissions from Berry: Five (5) to legalize cannabis and all products produced there from within the state; ten (10) to legalize recreational and medical marijuana; and seventeen (17) to legalize recreational marijuana only.


It could be worse, Hog fans.


One of the reasons that we may be seeing fewer AG-approved ballot measures is that some of the more legitimate ones may still be in initial planning stages. With the advent of more and more professional canvassing firms, a niche industry has sprouted across the country where well-funded political operatives with expertise in navigating ballot access hurdles can move quickly to organize.

Talk Business & Politics sources continue to report that a highway funding measure for voter approval is still a real possibility for 2018.

Re-dedicating existing allocated revenues, looking at new funding sources (possibly general revenues for certain auto-related items), and other important highway construction and maintenance policies and projects could all be rolled into one proposal. Stay tuned, we’re told.


TB&P’s Trey Baldwin and Jason Tolbert have done a tremendous job getting our 2018 list of candidates pulled together. Since rolling out our initial list, we’ve added about a half-dozen new announcements to races from candidates who have indicated to us they are running.

You can check out the latest, most up-to-date list at this link.


Editor’s note: ‘Notes from the Campaign Trail’ is a compilation of various political insider tidbits.