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Strengthening Our Communities: The Citizen Initiative Process In Arkansas

Arkansas is 1 of 15 states where citizens have the right to propose new state laws and constitutional amendments for voters to decide statewide.

Article 5 of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution grants this power to the people, but it wasn’t until the progressive teen years of the 1900s that citizens used their authority to propose a handful of amendments involving the legislative session and bond issues.

In the years since then, citizens have used the initiative process to enact laws such as:

  • Establish workers compensation policies
  • Create funding mechanisms for public libraries and community colleges
  • Set up the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
  • Legalize horse racing
  • Eliminate the poll tax
  • Enact legislative term limits
  • and more recently legalize medical marijuana and casino gaming

The citizen initiative process can be long and laborious depending on a group’s funding. Many proposals never make it to the ballot.
To be successful in putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, a ballot issue group needs to collect at least 85,000 valid signatures from voters in at least 15 counties. The criteria for other initiative are slightly different.

Many issues never make it to the ballot or are struck down before Election Day. In 2018, Arkansas voters approved the 100th amendment to their state constitution.

November 2020 will be the next time voters have a say on further amendments.

You can learn more about the ballot initiative process and other important information about civic engagement at uaex.edu/ballot.

Kristin Higgins loves to talk about policy and the issues you might find on an Arkansas ballot. Higgins joined the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in 2012 after a decade working as a newspaper reporter covering city hall, county government and crime in Arkansas. That journalism background still influences Higgins philosophy on writing for the public. She likes to translate difficult policy into easier and more understandable terms for the general public. In her time at the Cooperative Extension Service, Higgins has helped transform one of the few Extension ballot issue education programs in the country to reach more people. The Public Policy Center provides Arkansans with neutral information about proposed constitutional amendments and state laws to help them make informed decisions on Election Day. Higgins has a Masters in Agricultural Education and Extension from the University of Arkansas and is president of Arkansas Press Women, a 70-year-old organization supporting professional communicators. Reach out to Kristin at khiggins@uaex.edu or call 501-671-2160.