Arkansas GOP moves to keep progressive measures off the ballot—but not conservative ones


Angry that voters passed a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage in 2018, Arkansas Republicans are using their legislative majorities to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot that would make it vastly harder for progressives—but not conservatives—to ever put a measure on the ballot again.

Currently, to put a measure on the ballot, organizers must gather a number of voter signatures equal to a certain percentage of the vote cast in the most recent election for governor (but never greater than 10%). They must also collect half that percentage in at least 15 of Arkansas' 75 counties.

This new amendment, however, would increase that requirement to a majority of 45 counties. Given that Democrats and black voters are heavily concentrated in a few highly populated counties such as Pulaski (home of Little Rock) and in the rural Delta region, this provision would effectively require those backing progressive measures to gather a significant number of signatures from rural, conservative-dominated counties. Conservatives, however, would not have to do the same in urban, heavily Democratic areas.

The amendment would also cut six months off the time period during which organizers are able to gather signatures, and it eliminates an option for a 30-day extension if initiative backers collect at least 75% of needed signatures by the initial deadline. The amendment also raises the threshold needed for legislators themselves to put amendments on the ballot from a simple majority to a three-fifths supermajority. However, that's hardly an impediment to the GOP, since they hold three-fourths of all seats in the legislature and are poised to gain control of redistricting after 2020.

Taken together, these provisions could prove prohibitive for progressive ballot measures but not conservative ones. Arkansas isn't the only state where Republicans are retaliating against the voters for passing progressive ballot measures in 2018. Indeed, Republicans in Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah have all passed or attempted to pass legislation restricting the initiative process following progressive victories at the ballot box last year.

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