Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution provides “the people reserve unto themselves the power to propose legislative measures, laws and amendments to the Constitution, and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the General Assembly.”
This is known as direct democracy and has been in our Constitution since 1920. Direct democracy allows the people to propose laws themselves thus making laws that the politicians refuse to make. Direct democracy lessens the influence of the lobbyists and special interests by giving people the ability to have their voices heard outside of the political process. Because of this, politicians, lobbyists and special interests want to do all they can to limit its use. Issue 3 is their latest effort.
Since 1940 there have been 87 proposals appearing on the ballot due to the people’s efforts. However since 2010, the General Assembly has passed numerous laws regulating the use of direct democracy which hampers the ability of the people to use the initiative process. These regulations have lessened the use of petitioning by making it much more difficult and expensive, resulting in numerous proposals being taken off the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
During this election cycle, three proposals were removed: Issue 4, which gives the people the power to draw legislative districts; Issue 5, which would have made the election process more fair; and Issue 6, which aimed to reverse a law passed by the General Assembly that allows optometrists to perform optical surgery. Each issue was removed due to a technical issue that is not found in the state constitution, but through a law made by politicians who want to take power away from the people.
Issue 3 is a constitutional amendment proposed by the General Assembly. It severely hampers the people’s ability to exercise their rights under Amendment 7. Issues proposed by politicians are not required to have a ballot title, which is an explanation of the issue you are voting for and what changes are being made to existing law. A ballot title is required for all issues that are proposed by the people, but because they are not required by politicians the substantial changes Issue 3 would have on state law are outlined below:
Under current Arkansas law to propose a constitutional amendment people have to turn in signatures from 10% of those who voted in the last election for Governor. Those signatures are required to be turned in on or about July 4. Under Issue 3, people would be required to turn in signatures on Jan. 15. So instead of collecting signatures during the spring and summer, you are collecting signatures in winter when people are inside. Issue 3 eliminates 171 days from the time people have to collect signatures.
Under Amendment 7, in order to qualify for the ballot, people are currently required to collect a certain minimum number of signatures from 15 different counties. With Issue 3, the number of signatures people have to collect would triple to 45 counties making it much more difficult and expensive.
One protection the people currently have with Amendment 7 is that after the Secretary of State counts the signatures, if you don’t have the total number of signatures you need, but do have at least 75%, you get 30 more days to collect the shortage. This is called the ‘cure period.’ Issue 3 eliminates the people’s right to cure.
In 2014 and 2018, the voters approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage by overwhelming numbers and over the objections of the politicians. The last time the minimum wage had been increased by the politicians was 2006, and in 2014 it was only $6.25 per hour. On Jan. 1, 2021, the minimum wage will be $11 per hour.
In 2016, the voters approved over the objections of many politicians Arkansas’ medical marijuana program. Currently, there are over 80,000 patients and sales are in excess of $600,000 per month. The economic impact of this program has been tremendous. If the restrictions that are included in Issue 3 were the law when these issues were being proposed, it is likely that none of these would have become law and this is precisely the reason the politicians want you to vote for Issue 3.
Vote against Issue 3 to protect the people’s right to direct democracy.
Editor’s note: David Couch is an Arkansas attorney who has worked on several successful ballot initiatives. The opinions expressed are those of the author.