By Brenda Blagg
Between the Lines
Finally, as Arkansas voters began early voting this week, they knew which of five proposed ballot questions will matter.
Votes cast for or against only three of the five issues on the Arkansas general election ballot will count. Votes on the other two won’t.
The news came late last week as the Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified Issues 1 and 3, proposals for tort reform and stricter legislative term limits, respectively.
Both were bad proposals, and their disqualification in separate lawsuits is welcome.
Issue 1, the tort reform measure referred to voters by the Arkansas Legislature, failed its court test because lawmakers packed the proposed constitutional amendment with elements the court found to be unrelated.
The proposal was a confusing mess, difficult for non-lawyers to understand and highly controversial. Among its many provisions were dollar limits on lawsuit damages, caps on attorneys’ fees and the extension of judicial rule-making authority to the Arkansas Legislature.
The Supreme Court found that the various proposals were unconstitutionally rolled into a single proposed amendment.
What got Issue 3 (term limits) tossed was a failure on the part of the petitioners to submit adequate numbers of valid signatures.
This proposed amendment would have severely reduced term limits for state senators and representatives to a lifetime limit of 10 years.
Ultimately, the court disqualified enough of the submitted signatures to cause the petition to fall short of the 84,859 signatures needed to get to the ballot.
The secretary of state’s office initially determined that the petition had enough signatures. Opponents challenged the petition in court, specifically citing paperwork errors related to many of the signatures. A special master appointed by the Supreme Court examined the challenged signatures and reported his findings to the justices, who issued their ruling on Friday.
The court also cleared Issue 5 (minimum wage) for the ballot last week, ending this year’s run of litigation over ballot proposals.
Early voting for the general election began Monday. Ballots have long been printed and machines readied for the vote with all five of this year’s ballot questions on them. Consequently, the Supreme Court ordered that votes for and against the disqualified Issues not be counted.
Here are the issues for which votes will count:
Issue 2, referred by the Legislature, would amend the state Constitution to require voters to present certain photo identification in order to vote. The proposed constitutional amendment would embed the requirement in the state Constitution. Recently, the state Supreme Court upheld a state voter ID law.
At best, the proposed amendment is unnecessary, given the validity of existing state law on voter ID. At worst, it is an unnecessary barrier to voter participation.
Arkansas voters should reject Issue 2.
Issue 4, an initiative placed on the ballot by petition, would legalize casino gaming in Arkansas.
The proposed constitutional amendment would preordain where four casinos could be located. Two would be at or adjacent to dog and horse tracks in Crittenden and Garland counties (at Southland Racing Corp. in West Memphis and Oaklawn Jockey Club, Inc. in Hot Springs, respectively).
The other two would be in Jefferson and Pope counties within two miles of Pine Bluff and Russellville, respectively.
Licensure for casinos at Southland and Oaklawn would be automatic. The other two licenses would go to corporations that can “demonstrate experience in conducting casino gaming.” Two Native American tribes (Quapaw and Cherokee) that operate casinos in Oklahoma have indicated interest in those licenses and have pumped millions into the campaign for Issue 4.
The proposed amendment would primarily benefit the favored corporations that will get licenses to operate casinos.
Arkansas voters should reject Issue 4.
Issue 5, an initiated act submitted by petition, would raise the state’s minimum wage. The rate would increase from the current rate of $8.50 per hour to $9.25 per hour in 2019, rising to $10 in 2020 and to $11 in 2021.
For the record, opponents tried to stop this proposal in court, too, challenging the sufficiency of the petitions.
But the Supreme Court determined more than the 67,887 valid signatures required for an initiated act were submitted.
The current minimum wage in Arkansas happened because voters approved its gradual increase in 2014.
Issue 5 would similarly hike the rate gradually. Arkansas voters should approve the measure.
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For a detailed neutral analysis of the ballot issues, see the Voter Guide published by the public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture at www.uaex.edu/ballot.
Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist. E-mail comments or questions to email@example.com.