A special master has concluded that petitions to put a term limits amendment on the November ballot were insufficient because 14,810 signatures shouldn’t be counted, mostly for discrepancies in complying with a law that applies to paid canvassers.
Retired Circuit Judge Mark Hewett, appointed as special master to review facts in a case brought by corporate interests to remove the amendment from the ballot, said the secretary of state had certified 93,988 of the 124,671 signatures submitted by the Arkansas for Term Limits campaign, but 14,810 shouldn’t have been counted, leaving 79,178 valid signatures. That’s short of the 84,859 required.
The term limits campaign also raised constitutional questions about the statutes used in his determination, but Hewett said that was a question for the Arkansas Supreme Court. It will receive his findings and make a ruling.
A range of issues affected some of the petitions, including whether paid canvassers had begun gathering signatures before they had been properly registered. There were also discrepancies found in canvassers permanent addresses out of state and residences in Arkansas. Questionable signatures caused some pages of signatures to be wholly excluded because of problems with as many as 20 percent of signatures on a page.
Examples: He disqualified 1,200 signatures by a canvasser who had not submitted a sworn statement. He disqualified more than 3,000 signatures collected before the secretary of state had received the required registrations. There was testimony that the registrations had been sent in time by email, but for various reasons hadn’t been received by the secretary of state. A sponsor “assumes the risk” on electronic transmission, according to rules of the secretary of state’s office.
The lawsuit was filed by Arkansans for Common Sense Term Limits, headed by Randy Zook, head of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. They oppose shorter term limits. The current term limits allow 16 years of service in a single house of the legislature (up to 22 in some rare cases in the Senate). The limits were extended from six years in the House and eight in the Senate by a vote in 2014 described to voters as “term limits.” The national term limits organization immediately began an effort to repeal the law change with this amendment, which capped service at 10 years. Legislators have been howling. They like the money and power they accrue from 16 years in either House or Senate.
Elizabeth Robben Murray of the Friday Law Firm, a veteran challenger of popular initiatives and an architect of the law that placed new restrictions on paid canvassers, was attorney for challengers. She’s also challenging the initiative to increase the minimum wage. A special master is reviewing those petitions, too. His decision is also due today. Zook is leading the corporate lobby push against an increase in the minimum wage, too. Zook is trying to preserve Issue One, the limit on lawsuits and legislative takeover of court rules. Murray is intervening for Zook to save that one.
I’m informed a federal court challenge of the canvassing law is being considered. It treats paid and unpaid petition drives differently, with much more severe limits on paid canvassing. In the days of Citizens United, money is not supposed to be disadvantaged.