Sheffield Nelson at the secretary of state's office with petitions bearing signatures sufficient in number — 69,717 on 4,650 pages — to put a gas severance tax increase on the November ballot. Brian Chilson

Between a combination of poor law writing and the Arkansas Supreme Court, use of paid canvassers to put measures on the ballot failed in 2020.

A law requiring impossible checks of both state and federal criminal records ended in the disqualification of a referendum on expanded surgery privileges for optometrists and good government ideas on a nonpartisan redistricting commission and open primaries.

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Ophthalmologists, through their committee Safe Surgery Arkansas, have vowed to try again on the surgery referendum.

The previous canvassing law was struck down after the election. But the special interest lobby, which wants to control ballot issues through those approved by the legislature (which the lobby generally controls), is back with a a “fix.”

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It is SB 614 by Sen. Breanne Davis to rewrite the paid canvasser law to make it legal but harder to comply with. The bill got a hearing in a Senate committee Thursday. The video is down currently so I can’t see the outcome of the do-pass motion, but an adverse outcome would be surprising in this legislature.

If this bill became law, it would require only a state criminal background check of canvassers, which the State Police are able to perform. The federal check the State Police can’t do has been eliminated.

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But that isn’t all. It outlaws the normal method of paying petition canvassers, by each signature gathered. Canvassers must be residents of Arkansas and citizens of the U.S.

David Couch, a Little Rock attorney who’s long labored in ballot petition canvassing and law, commented further:

“It also bans anyone who as ever had a criminal conviction for any reason at any time.  So if you have a disorderly conduct charge because you were too rowdy in college then you can’t collect a signature.

 

‘It is just a blatant attempt by the politicians to silence the voters of Arkansas.  Because remember, no matter how anything gets on the ballot it must be approved by the voters at an election.”

Voting is dangerous. The lobby thinks so. The Republican Party thinks so. The fewer voters and the fewer ballot options the better.

Petitions can make the ballot without paid canvassers, but it is devilishly hard. Get the drift?

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Couch added: “It’s pretty much unconstitutional on its face. I’ll file suit the minute it becomes law.”