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Coalition forms against proposed changes to Arkansas ballot initiative process

Ballot themes on ballots this November include marijuana, elections, education, guns, tobacco, minimum wage and the death penalty.
Meg Kelly
Issue 2 on the November ballot would make it harder to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments in Arkansas.

A coalition of nonprofit groups has formed in opposition to a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution on the November ballot.

The group, called Protect Arkansas Rights, opposes Issue 2 which would raise the number of votes needed to pass citizen-led ballot initiatives as well as constitutional amendments proposed by both citizens and state lawmakers.

Kwami Abdul-Bey, elections coordinator for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, says a number of crucial state laws directly resulted from the state’s ballot initiative process.

“What we’re doing now, and what has been done for 100 years, is fine,” Abdul-Bey said. “We’ve passed very beneficial laws such as minimum wage, voting machines, we’ve gotten rid of the poll tax all through initiatives that the people have passed.”

If approved, Issue 2 would require 60% approval for all citizen-led ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments to pass. Both currently require support of 50% plus one vote for approval.

Gennie Diaz, director of the nonprofit For AR People, disagrees with arguments saying the change would help keep the power of state lawmakers in check.

“They’re able to pass laws by 50% plus one, but they want to make it so Arkansans would have to pass laws by 60%, and that’s not right. And we want to know how that actually benefits Arkansans and how that actually limits the power of the legislature,” Diaz said.

Issue 2 would not change the simple majority needed for most new laws to be passed by Arkansas lawmakers. Josh Price with the immigrants’ rights advocacy group Arkansas United says the ballot initiative process often benefits people of color.

“And to then increase that threshold by 10%, it makes it more difficult for minority groups to get laws on the ballot that may benefit their communities. We don’t have the most diverse representation in our state House and state Senate, so sometimes this pathway of a citizen ballot initiative is the only way that some of our minority communities can get something on the ballot that may benefit their groups,” Price said.

Supporters of Issue 2 have said it is necessary to limit the political influence of groups outside the state of Arkansas. It’s one of four proposed constitutional amendments set to appear on the November ballot.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.