Like it or not, and many Americans might prefer to pass on elections this year, the November ballot awaits voters across the country.
Outside it being a presidential election year, 2020 is not a big election cycle in Arkansas. Second District Congressman French Hill is the only statewide or federal candidate expected to face a serious challenge to his seat. But the ballot will include some constitutional amendments that should have voters’ attention.
How many times has each of us voted on an issue about which we actually weren’t well versed? Sadly, it happens every cycle. We’re here to help. Arkansas Money & Politics presents the following guide to the statewide and federal faces and constitutional issues on the ballot this year in Arkansas. Summaries below regarding the constitutional amendments were sourced largely from the folks at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension.
The 2020 Arkansas ballot for statewide and federal races and constitutional issues:
Republican: Donald J. Trump (incumbent)
Democrat: Joseph R. Biden
Green Party: Howie Hawkins
Libertarian: Jo Jorgenson
Republican: Tom Cotton (incumbent)
Libertarian: Ricky Dale Harrington Jr.
District 1 (unopposed)
Republican: Rick Crawford (incumbent)
Republican: French Hill (incumbent)
Democrat: Joyce Elliott
Republican: Steve Womack (incumbent)
Democrat: Celeste Williams
Libertarian: Michael Kalagias
Republican: Bruce Westerman (incumbent)
Democrat: William Hanson
Libertarian: Frank Gilbert
Issue 1: 0.5% State Sales Tax for State, County and City Roads, Bridges and Other Surface Transportation
What: This issue asks that voters approve a permanent dedicated 0.5% state sales tax, the revenue from which will be used for maintaining, repairing and improving highways, roads and streets across the state. Additionally, this issue asks that voters divide the revenue under an existing formula of 70 percent going to the Arkansas Department of Transportation, 15 percent to county governments, and 15 percent to city governments for roads, bridges and “other surface transportation.”
Points of view:
Pros: Arkansans are able to improve existing roadways through a tax that is fairly spread out across the Arkansan voter base in terms of who pays the tax.
Cons: As of 2019, Arkansans have paid $958 million in taxes and fees to support the upkeep of Arkansas roads. The taxes seems to go towards reactive measures, rather than preventative ones.
Issue 2: Arkansas Term Limits Amendment
Asks: This issue asks that voters eliminate lifetime term limits for state legislators and prohibit future legislators from serving more than 12 years in a row. For those legislators who serve the full 12 years consecutively, they would have to wait four years before being re-elected. This would allow current legislators and any legislators elected this November to serve under the current term-limit amendment, which allows them to serve 16 years
consecutively or non-consecutively.
Points of view:
Pros: Because politicians currently have no definite end to their time in office, they may feel less pressure to get things done within an elected term. Further, politicians might covet positions on committees and work towards goals that benefit themselves, rather than the people they serve. Finally, many Americans think that many politicians have made a “career” out of their position and make too much money from continually winning a position.
Cons: If a politician truly is doing the right thing and is overwhelmingly liked by the people, he or she should have the right to be in that office until the people determine otherwise. After all, voters determine who takes office and who does not — term limits aren’t needed if voters do their job.[Editor’s note: Issue 3 was taken off the ballot in September, and an appeal to have it placed back on was under consideration as of press time.]
Issue 3: Changing Arkansas’ Citizen Initiative Process, Votes Required for Legislative Ballot Issue Proposals and Publication Requirements
Asks: This issue consists of 3 parts.
Firstly, the amendment would change Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, known as “Initiatives and
This would change the date when voter signatures are due for statewide ballot to Jan. 15 of the election year.
It would increase the number of counties where voter signatures must be collected for statewide ballot measures to 45 counties, and it would establish April 15th of the election year as the deadline for filing lawsuits challenging statewide ballot measures.
It would eliminate the ability of statewide ballot issue groups to collect and submit additional signatures from voters to put a proposed constitutional amendment, state law or referendum on the ballot if the first round of signatures submitted to the Secretary of State does not meet the threshold, which is often called a “cure period.”
This eliminates the cure period for local ballot measures on a city or county-wide ballot if the first round of signatures submitted to the city or county clerk does not meet the threshold. Additionally, this amendment eliminates the section requiring that a person challenging the validity of a ballot issue petition in court has the burden to prove the petition is invalid. The impact of this change is not clear.
Finally, this issue adds a sentence to the constitution that extends a deadline that falls on a weekend or holiday, to the next day that isn’t a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.
Secondly, the amendment would make changes to Article 19, Section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution, known as “Miscellaneous Provisions.”
These proposed changes would increase the number of votes needed by state legislators to refer a constitutional amendment to voters, from 50 percent to 60 percent of legislators in each house.
Additionally, the amendment would delete a requirement that constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature be published in a newspaper in each county for six months ahead of the election. Instead, the proposed amendment would be published “in a manner provided by law.” No additional definition is provided.
Thirdly, the amendment would make changes to Amendment 70, Section 2 of the Arkansas Constitution, which impacts how legislators propose a constitutional amendment changing salaries of elected state officials.
This new section would delete a requirement that proposed constitutional amendments affecting the salary of statewide elected officials and legislators be published in a newspaper in each county for six months ahead of the election. Similar to proposed changes to Article 19 listed above, an amendment proposed under this section would be published “in a matter provided by law.” No additional definition is provided.
Additionally, this amendment would add a sentence to the constitution that would require constitutional amendments proposed under this section to comply with requirements in Article 19, Section 22.
This would effectively increase the number of votes needed by state legislators to refer salary-based constitutional amendments to voters from 50 percent to 60 percent of legislators in each house.
Points of view:
Pros: This issue is meant to streamline the process by removing certain steps, and in turn, waiting periods regarding signature gathering and salary.
Cons: This issue is vague in terms of its repercussions — mostly because those repercussions aren’t known. But in an attempt to streamline the process, the issue takes away what might be considered important steps and notices in letting the public know about ballot issues in order to strong-arm certain issues into office. Additionally, this issue makes it easier for lawmakers to hide how much they are making from the public. It also makes it harder for any amendment that would affect their salary to pass.