Circuit Judge Mary McGowan ruled today that the 2013 law aimed at making it harder to petition for ballot initiatives was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement. The state will likely appeal.
The Arkansas Public Law Center, of which I’m a board member, and the Arkansas chapter of the american Civil Liberties Union supported the lawsuit, with plaintiffs Paul Spencer of the Regnat Populus ethics reform group, and Nealy Sealy of Arkansas Community Organizations.
The lawsuit challenged Act 1413, passed with business lobby support, including the duopoloy casinos at West Memphis and Hot Springs, frequent targets of petition campaigns to allow more casino gambling in Arkansas. Targeted were legal requirements for personal details about paid canvassers, including a prohibition of use of canvassers with certain criminal records; stricter rules on throwing out batches of signatures; new requirements that canvassers attest to their addresses and increasing penalties for canvassers who prints a name, address or birth date for a signer, something the law only allows signers to do. Attorneys argued that the law created different requirements for paid and unpaid canvassers. Sponsors knew that paid canvassing is, most often, the only sure way to meet petition requirements.
The judge faulted the law for not clearly defining something of value, a standard for deciding if a canvasser was paid. She also noted the lack of definition of a “material defect” that allows the secretary of state’s office to throw out whole pages of signatures. Requiring home addresses of canvassers, who are sometimes transient workers, also raises a fear that they’ll be harassed by opponents of a ballot measure. The judge faulted, too, the new provision that requires petitioners to stop gathering signatures while the secretary of state reviews the validity of initial submissions.
The judge said existing requirements are already tough and drives often fail. “To establish new requirements which are unclear and not properly defined restricts, hampers and impairs the exercise of the rights to the people of the state of Arkanas,” the judge wrote in an 11-page opinion.
Though the goals were stamping out fraud, the effects of the act are “crushing to citizens who wish to bring their issues directly to the people,” the ruling said, “The effects of Act 1413 seem to impact the citizens rather than the special interests who always seem to have the money to further their goals.”
She ruled all six sections of the act challenged by the plaintiffs as unconstitutional and enjoined Secretary of State Mark Martin from enforcing its provisions. David Couch and Bettina Brownstein represented the plaintiffs