This fall, Arkansans should vote YES on Issue 3 to make the process for amending the Arkansas Constitution fairer and better for Arkansas. Issue 3, if passed, will protect Arkansas’ rural counties, promote transparency, and stop out-of-state liberal billionaires from rigging our elections.
Arkansans can amend our state Constitution by gathering signatures to demonstrate popular support for a proposed amendment, and then putting that amendment on the ballot for voters to decide. Some of the amendments that have been passed through this process have been good for Arkansas, like banning public funding of abortion. But the process is not perfect.
One problem is that a petitioner trying to amend the Constitution only needs to gather signatures from 15 of Arkansas’s 75 counties. Thus, a petitioner can get enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot without a single signature from 60 counties. If you live in a small or rural county, you may have never seen a canvasser because petitioners trying to amend the Constitution usually focus their signature-gathering efforts on Arkansas’ largest counties, leaving smaller counties out of the process.
Further, the timeline for putting an amendment on the ballot is rushed and can confuse voters. Petitioners are not required to submit signatures for a constitutional amendment until four months before the election. What follows is the laborious counting and verification of signatures, oftentimes litigation against the petition, and potentially more signature gathering. This compressed timeline leads to uncertainty as to whether an amendment will appear on the ballot, often until just before the election.
Finally, the current process includes a “cure period,” which effectively rewards petitioners for submitting invalid signatures with a second chance to gather more signatures to “cure” their original failures. This second chance extends the legal uncertainty and provides an opportunity for special interests with enough money to pay for more signatures if they didn’t get enough the first time.
These dynamics make it difficult for normal Arkansans to amend the Constitution.
But wealthy and powerful interest groups have enough money to get around these hurdles. This year, liberal out-of-state billionaires paid more than $3 million to collect signatures and try to get initiatives on the ballot to change Arkansas’ elections. Thankfully, they failed. But they recognized that with enough money, they could take advantage of Arkansas’ current process for amending the Constitution. They even described Arkansas as “a kind of laboratory for the country.” That’s right — they wanted to treat Arkansans like lab rats.
The good news is Arkansas can fix these problems by voting yes on Issue 3. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, and the Republican Party of Arkansas all support Issue 3 because it will make our process for amending the Constitution fairer, more transparent, and less likely to be abused by liberal out-of-state billionaires.
Issue 3 would give rural and small Arkansas counties more input in this process by requiring petitioners to gather signatures from 45 Arkansas counties instead of the current 15-county requirement. This reform will ensure that amendments genuinely have broad support across the state by including our smaller counties meaningfully in the petition process.
We would have also more transparency and certainty with the passage of Issue 3 because the deadline for submitting petitions to the Secretary of State would be January of the election year, giving Arkansans much needed time to decide if they support or oppose each initiative. That way, it will be less likely that you learn about the amendments for the first time when you step into the voting booth.
Finally, Issue 3 would eliminate the so-called “cure period” that allows petitioners to drag out the process and even submit fraudulent signatures if they later correct the problem. Arkansas should require only legitimate, verified signatures by the deadline before we amend our state Constitution.
Arkansans have a chance to improve our constitutional amendment process and make it fairer for everyone. That’s why I’m urging you to vote YES on Issue 3, and tell your friends and neighbors to do the same.
Editor’s note: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was elected in 2014. The opinions expressed are those of the author.