Arkansas Board Gives OK to Ballot Title on Legislative, Congressional Districts


Arkansas Board Gives OK to Ballot Title on Legislative, Congressional Districts

LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas board has approved the ballot title and popular name for a proposed constitutional amendment that would shift the authority on who can redraw legislative and congressional boundaries for the next decade.

The state Board of Election Commissioners voted Wednesday to advance the amendment proposed by The Arkansas Voters First. 

The measure would allow a new commission, including three Democrats, three Republicans and three Independents, to redraw legislative districts. The state Board of Apportionment, which is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, has that authority now. The proposal would also change authority for redrawing the boundaries of the congressional districts from the Legislature to the new commission.

Also Wednesday, the board delayed a decision until July 29 on the ballot title and popular name for a proposed amendment that would authorize operations of 16 casinos, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. 

The board decided 5-1 not to certify a ballot title for a proposed ranked-choice voting amendment that says candidates for Congress, the General Assembly and constitutional offices would run in an open primary against others regardless of their party.

Stephanie Matthews, campaign manager for Open Primaries Arkansas committee that promotes the ranked-choice option, said the committee plans to appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. 

“There are 100,000 Arkansas voters who (signed the proposal’s petitions) and wanted open primaries and (Secretary of State) John Thurston will stop at nothing to get this kicked off the ballot because he knows when voters have their say, open primaries will pass.”

State law requires the secretary of state to certify that the sponsor has submitted the required number of valid signatures of registered voters on petitions.

Thurston spokesman Kevin Niehaus declined to respond to Matthews’ comments. But Thurston has recently said an error in criminal background checks of the people who circulated petitions means that the redistricting, ranked-choice voting and casino amendments can’t qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot.

Last week, the Open Primaries and Voters First committees asked the state Supreme Court to compel Thurston to count the petition's signatures. They also asked for at least 30 more days to collect signatures.

Jonelle Fulmer, co-chairwoman of the Arkansans for Transparency committee that opposes both the redistricting and ranked-choice voting amendments, applauded the board for not certifying the ranked-choice amendment.

Arkansas is one of several states where a redistricting proposal is under consideration for the ballot, including North Dakota, Oregon and Nevada.

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