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Ballot initiative groups make last push for signatures on July 4th

Groups set up booths to gather signatures while a "Decline to Sign" counter protect unfolded across the street.
Josie Lenora
Little Rock Public Radio
Groups set up booths near the Arkansas State Capitol to gather signatures while a "Decline to Sign" counter-protest unfolds across the street.

In the final hours of signature gathering, supporters of several ballot amendments met at the Arkansas State Capitol Thursday in a last ditch attempt to get voters to sign.

If passed, the amendments would do several different things including expanding access to medical marijuana, removing the sales tax from menstrual products and enshrining the Freedom of Information Act in the state constitution.

“The Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment" would regulate private schools receiving tax money. One of the most controversial amendments would legalize abortion up to the 18th week of pregnancy.

The groups set up booths on the edge of the Capitol grounds Thursday, the Fourth of July. On Friday at 5 p.m., their signatures will be due to the Secretary of State's office.

Arkansas for Limited Government is the group working to legalize abortion. They say they are a few thousand short of their goal of collecting more than 90,000 signatures from 50 counties.

“I'm very nervous,” organizer Alison Guthrie  said. “I very much would like to make it on the ballot.”

She has been working for months across the state to collect signatures. Abortion rights and legalization is something she is particularly passionate about.

“I am trying to imagine what that would feel like,” she said, thinking of a scenario where the group met the goal. “It would feel amazing.”

Across the street from the Capitol, an anti-abortion group was asking people to “Decline to Sign.”

Erin Hogan from the Arkansas Family Council said Arkansas has enough services to help people with unplanned pregnancies. She says the state does not need legalized abortion services. She was hoping people would be persuaded against signing onto the amendment. Hogan said her strategy throughout the day is “to be a presence.”

“It's really being a voice and a light,” she said. “And maybe help persuade people who are a little on the fence.”

Guthrie said the group had harassed members of Arkansans For Limited Government before, but ultimately they “have just as much of a right to be here as we do.”

Another group, For AR Kids, is working to get an amendment on the ballot that would add caveats to Arkansas LEARNS. This law, signed by the governor last year, gives tax money to private schools.

Bill Kopsky, a representative for the group, said they still need to collect tens of thousands of signatures. He said the last count had the group at 60,000 out of the needed 90,000 signatures, but says there are many signatures the group has but has not counted yet. For AR Kids plans to keep collecting signatures into Friday, right up to the deadline.

A previous attempt by some of the same activists to repeal Arkansas LEARNS failed, though the group was able to collect 25,000 signatures on the final day. Kopsky hoped there would be similar turn out at the Fourth of July event.

A spokesman for Secretary of State John Thurston said it may take several weeks to count all the signatures for each of the different ballot initiatives.

Guthrie said Friday is going to be a logistical “challenge,” with “Lots of boxes coming” to the Capitol as the group brings their final batch of signatures in.

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