The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's radio column for the weekend of Oct. 28, 2016:
Imagine my surprise when I heard the news about issue seven only minutes after going to the polls myself for early voting. I just cast my vote in Rogers when I found out the Arkansas Supreme Court had disqualified one of the marijuana measures.
It is unfortunate and ill-timed that the challenge to the validity of the signatures on issue seven was decided so close to the General Election. This decision will likely result in confusion for voters, as the measure will remain on the ballot, but the votes on that measure will not be counted.
While I accept and respect the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, I am disappointed that the people of Arkansas will not have the opportunity to vote on this measure, as well as several other measures, proposed by the people. Regardless of where I stand on the issues, it’s important for Arkansans to be able to voice their vote at the polls.
The best part of our country is the process of democracy, and Arkansas is fairly unique in that the people of our state have reserved for themselves a form of direct democracy. As provided in Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, “[t]he first power reserved by the people of Arkansas is the initiative.” This power allows the people to propose legislative measures, laws and amendments to the Arkansas Constitution by submitting an adequate number of valid signatures on an initiative petition to the Secretary of State.
The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified issue seven because the sponsors failed to submit the minimum number of valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. In addition to issue seven, the Court also disqualified two other measures: the casino amendment and the tort reform amendment. Those measures were disqualified because of insufficiencies in the ballot titles of those measures. When issues come to the ballot box, it’s important to get them right. That way, people will be able to honestly evaluate each measure and be well-informed when they cast their vote.
The Court is in a very difficult position with these issues because the Arkansas Constitution requires petitions to be filed with the Secretary of State not less than four months before the election. This year that deadline fell on July eighth. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the Supreme Court’s decisions on the sufficiency of statewide petitions to come days before the election – and that is because of the late deadline to submit initiative petitions to the Secretary of State and even later challenges to those measures.
This year, challenges to the various initiated measures were filed as late as early September. The case concerning issue seven, the second marijuana measure, was not submitted to the Court until last Thursday, October 20th. The Court rendered their decision only a week later.
The Court was left with no choice but to issue its decision, even though it came so close to this year’s election. In order to prevent the Court from having to make these decisions so close to the election, it is necessary to move the deadline to file petitions with the Secretary of State. This change would require an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. One option would be for the General Assembly to propose this change as one of the legislatively referred constitutional amendments during the upcoming session.
Democracy is not only the cornerstone of state government, but the foundation of our country. Your voice, and your vote, matters. And after it’s all said and done, democracy – and the will of the people – will prevail.