LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – After the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners nixed two proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday, some Arkansans began asking questions about the balloting process in general and how an amendment can be added to the ballot.
Commissioners rejected ballot titles related to rejecting a Pope County casino and legalizing recreational marijuana. In the latter’s case, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed Responsible Growth Arkansas had collected enough valid signatures to get to the next step.
Commissioners determined the ballot title was inadequate because it did not include information about THC proportion limits.
“I thought that was unfair, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” said Steve Lancaster, the counsel for Responsible Growth Arkansas.
Lancaster said the state’s current balloting process can be challenging to overcome.
“I would prefer possibly a different process, especially after a result like [Wednesday,]” Lancaster said.
Prof. Matt Bender teaches at the University of Arkansas Law School. He said formerly, people could submit the title before gathering signatures. Now, once signatures are verified, proposals go before the commissioners.
“The Board of Election Commissioners is supposed to catch and stop things that are fraudulent or misleading,” Bender said.
Bender said Wednesday’s rulings show the commissioners may have gone further than their intended service, looking at the contents of the legislation rather than the title itself.
“The merits of the bill should be up to voters,” Bender said. “That’s how these things generally work. They’re not supposed to be arbiters of the quality of the legislation.”
State Sen. Jim Hendren (I) said a simple solution would be allowing for a “curing period” where ballot titles can be amended or fixed.
“If they say you need to be more descriptive in this area, you can come back and get it fixed,” Hendren said.
Hendren said he hopes that issue is taken up at the next legislative session. Until or unless that happens, groups like Responsible Growth Arkansas will be required to appeal to a higher power.
“We’ll go to the [state] supreme court and see what happens,” Lancaster said.