Abortion amendment rejected by Secretary of State due to lack of canvasser identification

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 559 views 

A proposed constitutional amendment to allow for exceptions to the state’s no abortion law has been rejected by the Arkansas Secretary of State due to a lack of proper identification by some canvassers of the proposal. However, supporters claim the Secretary of State is incorrect in his disqualification.

Secretary of State John Thurston on Wednesday (July 10) notified supporters of the proposed amendment that their petitions were being rejected. In a letter to Lauren Cowles, Thurston said:

“I have determined that you failed to comply with Ark. Code Ann. 7-9-111(f)(2). That provision requires the sponsor to submit (1) a statement identifying the paid canvassers by name, and (2) a signed statement indicating that the sponsor has provided a copy of the most recent edition of the Secretary of State’s initiatives and referenda handbook and explained the requirements under Arkansas law for obtaining signatures on the petition to each paid canvasser before the paid canvasser solicited signatures. In McDaniel v. Spencer in 2015, the Arkansas Supreme Court expressly found this requirement to be constitutional.

“You did not submit any statements meeting this requirement. By contrast, other sponsors of initiative petitions complied with this requirement. Therefore, I must reject your submission.

“Even if your failure to comply with Ark. Code Ann. 7-9-111(f)(2) did not require me to reject your submission outright, it would certainly mean that signatures gathered by paid canvassers in your submission could not be counted for any reason. You submitted an affidavit attesting that the total number of signatures submitted was 101,525.

“As a courtesy to you, I instructed my office to determine the initial count of signatures gathered by paid canvassers in your putative submission. That number was 14,143. After removing those signatures and assuming your attestation as valid, 87,382 volunteer signatures remain – 3,322 signatures less than the required 90,704. Therefore, even if I could accept your submission, I would be forced to find that your petition is insufficient on its face for failure to obtain the required 90,704 signatures.”

You can view a copy of the rejection letter here.

Arkansans for Limited Government, the group backing the Arkansas Abortion Amendment, submitted 101,525 signatures last Friday. Groups seeking to pass a constitutional amendment must collect 90,704 valid voter signatures, which is equal to 10% of the number of votes cast in the most recent governor’s election, with sufficient numbers in 50 counties.

The proposed amendment would legalize abortion in Arkansas up to 18 weeks in the pregnancy and at any time in cases of rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly, or when the doctor determines the abortion is needed “to protect a pregnant female’s life or to protect a pregnant female from a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.”

The amendment defines those three situations as those where continuing the pregnancy “will create a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function of a pregnant female.”

Abortion was banned in Arkansas in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in another case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The decision triggered a law in Arkansas that banned abortions except when the woman’s life is in danger during a medical emergency.

Rebecca Bobrow, a spokesperson for Arkansans for Limited Government, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying the group is “alarmed and outraged” by Thurston’s decision and plans to take legal action to remain viable. The statement reads:

“We worked with the Secretary of State’s office during every step of the process to ensure that we followed all rules and regulations. At multiple junctures — including on July 5 inside of the Capitol Building — we discussed signature submission requirements with the Secretary of State’s staff. In fact, the Secretary of State’s office supplied us with the affidavit paperwork, which we used. Until today, we had no reason not to trust that the paperwork they supplied us was correct and complete.

“The Secretary of State, and the public, knows that we provided the state with a list of our paid canvassers and all of the required information associated with their employment. They know this because the list we provided to the Secretary of State was FOIA’d and released by our opposition in an attempt to intimidate our supporters. Asserting now that we didn’t provide required documentation regarding paid canvassers is absurd and demonstrably, undeniably incorrect.

“Arkansas law does not empower the Secretary of State to make an unfounded legal interpretation, which is what he did today by summarily declaring that we have not completed the steps for qualification. We are owed a period to provide a hard copy of the statement, which has been emailed to their office more than a dozen times, if that is what’s needed.

“More than 101,000 Arkansans participated in this heroic act of direct democracy and stood up to loudly proclaim their support for access to healthcare. They deserve better than a state government that seeks to silence them. We will fight this ridiculous disqualification attempt with everything we have. We will not back down.”