Lawsuit in Arkansas Seeks Order Allowing Safe Signature Collection During Pandemic

April 23, 2020 by Dan McCue

A federal lawsuit filed in Arkansas on Wednesday claims the state’s election laws make it virtually impossible to collect the requisite signatures for placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

At issue in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, is whether voters will have a chance to vote in November on the question of forming an independent citizens redistricting commission.

Proponents for removing the power to draw congressional and state legislative district lines from the state legislature claim Arkansas is the eighth worst gerrymandered state in the entire country.

They also contend they have no time to spare, given that the 2020 Census, on which the next district lines will be based, is already underway.

“We have a right to petition our government to amend our constitution. We don’t have the luxury of waiting until next year,” said Bonnie Miller, director of the plaintiff Arkansas Voters First and president of the League of Women Voters of Washington County. 

“If we are denied access to the ballot this year, Arkansas could be stuck with unfair and unrepresentative districts for another ten years,” Miller said.

The problem is, for a constitutional amendment to be allowed onto the ballot in Arkansas, canvassers for a measure need to collect the signatures of over 89,000 registered voters in person, and then appear before a notary public to attest they witnessed the voter sign the petition.

Arkansas Voters First, an independent non-profit organization advocating for a non-partisan redistricting commission in the state, says due to the current global public health crisis, collecting signatures in-person – and complying with onerous witness requirements – create a substantial risk to both the canvasser and the voter.

In addition, it says, many potential signees live in places like nursing homes and are unable to leave their homes or have visitors to sign petitions.

The plaintiffs are asking the federal court to waive the witness requirement for petition signatures, reduce the amount of signatures required, delay the signature submission deadline beyond its current July 3, and allow for the submission of electronic signatures.

“Every voice should be heard in our democracy, and every vote should count equally,” said Paul Smith, vice president at the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. “Arkansans deserve the right to decide whether their voting district maps will be drawn by a neutral commission or politicians pursuing a partisan agenda.”

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