A proposal to shorten legislative term limits lacks the signatures to remain on the ballot, but an initiated act on minimum wage increases should stay there, according to reports issued Monday by special masters.
Special Master Mark Hewett on Monday found that the sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would shorten the number of years that state lawmakers may serve failed to submit enough valid signatures to qualify the proposal for the Nov. 6 general election ballot. He said the secretary of state's office, which checks petitions, erroneously included more than 14,000 signatures of registered voters in its final count.
Meanwhile, Special Master Sam Bird concluded that the secretary of state's office erroneously discarded some signatures when it certified the proposed initiated act to raise the state's minimum wage by $2.50 an hour to $11 per hour by 2021.
Now the state Supreme Court will consider the findings of Hewett and Bird, who were appointed this month to review legal challenges to the ballot proposals. The challenges were led by Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook. Both special masters held hearings last week.
The Arkansans for Common Sense Term Limits ballot committee, led by Zook, asked the Supreme Court to toss the term limits proposal -- Issue 3 -- from the ballot.
The proposed amendment would impose the strictest term limits in the nation on state lawmakers. It would limit state representatives to three two-year terms, senators to two four-year terms and a combined maximum of 10 years in both chambers. Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution, approved by voters in 2014, limits lawmakers to serving up to 16 years in the House, the Senate or combined service in both chambers. Senators, who draw two-year terms after once-a-decade redistricting, may serve beyond 16 years.
On Aug. 3, Secretary of State Mark Martin's office determined that Issue 3 qualified for the ballot because the sponsoring group, the Arkansas Term Limits committee, turned in no more than 93,998 valid signatures of registered voters. The proposal needed 84,859 valid signatures to qualify.
Zook asserted that Issue 3's ballot title and popular name are not fair or complete and will mislead voters. He also contended that some of the paid and volunteer canvassers circulating petitions failed to properly collect signatures of registered voters and those should be invalidated.
In his report to the Supreme Court, Hewett found that Martin's office erroneously included 14,810 signatures of registered voters in its final count, and this error was mostly for not complying with a state law on paid canvassers.
"Accordingly, I find that the sponsor submitted insufficient signatures to [qualify] for the November 6, 2018, General Election Ballot," Hewett said.
While the Arkansas Term Limits committee attempted to raise arguments challenging the constitutionality of various laws, including Arkansas Code Annotated 7-9-601, " I decline to make any determinations regarding the constitutionality of statutes because it is outside the scope of the review tasked to me by the Arkansas Supreme Court in its per curium order, which directed me to 'determine the questions of fact contained in the petition,' " Hewett wrote in his report to the Supreme Court.
Chad Pekron, an attorney representing the Arkansas Term Limits committee, said that "we came very close" in qualifying for the ballot based on the findings of Hewett, and there were some constitutional issues that Hewett wasn't allowed to consider in his proceedings.
Pekron said he disagrees with some of Hewett's statutory interpretations, and he hopes to convince that Supreme Court to keep the proposal on the ballot.
Zook said Monday in a written statement that "we are pleased with the special master's findings, and we're hopeful the Arkansas Supreme Court will agree that this measure did not meet the requirements to be on the ballot.
"Aside from the flawed signature effort, proposed Issue 3, being pushed by out-of-state interests, is bad policy for Arkansas. Saddling Arkansans with the most restrictive term limits in the country would be detrimental to the operation of our state government," Zook said.
The Citizens for a Sound Economy committee, also led by Zook, asked the Supreme Court to toss the proposed initiated act to raise the minimum wage off the ballot. It's Issue 5.
The secretary of state's office determined that the sponsor, the Arkansans for a Fair Wage committee, turned in 84,526 valid signatures. The proposal needed 67,887 signatures.
In his report Monday, Bird determined that Martin's office had improperly culled 19,335 signatures from those gathered by canvassers.
Attorneys for Citizens for a Sound Economy argued that thousands of signatures initially submitted by David Couch, the architect of Issue 5, in July should have been invalidated.
Even though Couch had many signatures invalidated following his initial submission, the secretary of state's office determined that he had at least enough valid signatures (75 percent) to qualify for an additional 30 days of gathering. When Couch came backs weeks later, he had tens of thousands of more signatures, but Zook's attorneys argued that Couch should have never been allowed the extra time to begin with.
Bird concluded that 582 signatures should be invalidated from the count in favor of Issue 5 because the canvassers submitted signature cards referencing a different issue altogether, one to expand casino gambling.
But by adding in the previously culled signatures, Bird counted 71,459 total signatures, more than the 67,887 needed to place the initiated act.
"It is clear (and I find) that sponsor's petition exceeded the minimum number of signatures ... required to qualify it for placement on the November 6, 2018 ballot," Bird wrote in his finding.
Issue 5 would raise the state's current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour to $9.25 on Jan. 1, 2019, then to $10 per hour in 2020 and to $11 in 2021.
"They're trying to disenfranchise voters because the canvasser left the last letter out of their name" on the forms submitted to the secretary of state, Couch said.
"We're disappointed in the special master's findings. We believe the committee pushing for the wage increase failed to follow the process Arkansas law sets out for gathering signatures, and that many signatures were improperly validated. Hopefully, the Arkansas Supreme Court will agree with us that this measure, which would hurt the state's economy and likely cost jobs, did not qualify for the November ballot," Zook said in a statement.
A Section on 09/25/2018
Print Headline: Special master rejects term-limits ballot issue