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Arkansas Attorney General rejects two election-related constitutional amendment titles

A sign outside a Little Rock polling location on Aug. 9, 2022. The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana should be allowed for consideration by voters during the Nov. 8 general election.
Michael Hibblen
Little Rock Public Radio
Two proposed amendments to the Arkansas Constitution would eliminate electronic voting and make it harder to vote absentee.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Wednesday rejected the ballot titles of two proposed constitutional amendments relating to the voting process.

In order for a constitutional amendment proposal to make its way onto the ballot in Arkansas, it first must be approved by the attorney general. Griffin claims to put aside his personal beliefs when evaluating ballot titles, rejecting them on issues of legality, structure or vagueness.

Each amendment has a short “popular name” which is typically a few words long and designed to give voters a brief summary of the proposal. This is accompanied by a lengthier “ballot title” which describes the amendment in more detail.

The two voting-related amendments were unusual in that their popular names were almost as long as the ballot title. Griffin said this should be rectified if the amendment is to be put on the ballot.

The first proposal would require all elections in Arkansas to be conducted with paper ballots. This is in keeping with a push among conservatives in recent years to eliminate electronic vote counting systems.

The amendment's ballot title alleges paper ballots would make elections more secure and trustworthy. That's despite warnings from election officials that eliminating electronic voting greatly slows the vote-counting process.

The attorney general objected to the title's wording, saying it contained misleading language and vague terms. For example, the proposal says paper ballots will allow the “vote count to be verified by human intelligence.” Griffin called this phraseology “confusing.”

He also said the ballot title and popular name wrangled all types of elections under the umbrella term “race.” The ballot title mentions “selecting only one candidate or issue per race.” Griffin said the title should further clarify the types of elections to which the amendment pertains.

“Initiatives, referenda, measures, matters, or issues are not generally considered races,” Griffin said.

The second rejected constitutional amendment would add additional regulations to absentee ballots. It aims to limit the time period when Arkansans can vote absentee to 30 days before an election, and only if the voter is otherwise impaired from going to the polls in-person. It also requires that ballots should be counted on or before Election Day.

Griffin had similar criticisms of this amendment, saying its language was ambiguous and unclear. He took issue with one section describing circumstances in which voters would be "absent" on Election Day.

"This language is confusing because you do not identify the place from which the voter must be physically absent," the statement reads. "Must the voter simply be physically absent from the polling place, or must the voter be absent from the county?"

Griffin went further to say the text contained grammatical errors. The ballot title is written as one long sentence using only commas, which the attorney general says creates unnecessary complexity.

Both proposed constitutional amendments were put forth by Clint Lancaster, a conservative attorney from Benton. He is perhaps best known for being the plaintiff's attorney in the paternity case against President Joe Biden's son Hunter.

If the amendment titles do gain the attorney general's approval, supporters will need to collect over 90,000 signatures from voters across the state to place them on the 2024 ballot.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.