Law Restricting Paid Canvassers In Ballot Initiatives Awaits Lawsuit

Apr 25, 2013

Canvassers at work.
Credit Bernard Pollack /

Policy Advocates in Arkansas are planning to file a lawsuit challenging a new law which they claim restricts citizens from advancing ballot initiatives through a petition gathering process.

Act 1413 requires paid canvassers to register with the Secretary of State’s office and would criminalize canvassers who solicit fraudulent signatures.

David Couch is an attorney for Regnant Populus and Arkansans For Compassionate Care, two groups that have used the petition process to try to put constitutional amendments on the general election ballot. He says the act violates both the Arkansas and U.S. constitutions.

"Amendment 7 of the Arkansas Constitution specifically states that you can't impose any additional burdens on the petitioning process other than those set in our own constitution. And this statute clearly imposes a lot of additional burdens and hurdles that petitioners have to go through," he says.

Couch says he plans to file a lawsuit next week in federal court against Act 1413. He says the groups he represents also plan to campaign against Senate Joint Resolution 16, a proposed constitutional amendment. It would require 75 percent of signatures for a ballot initiative to be valid before groups can receive extra time to  collect the total amount of required signatures. 

"They're are very few organizations that have a volunteer network great enough to actually collect signatures on a volunteer basis for either a initiative or a referendum. The vast majority of the people who want to do an initiated amendment or an initiated act are required to hire paid canvassers," says Couch.

Supporters of  Act 1413, which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the state legislature, maintain that paid canvassers are incentivized to collect invalid or false signatures.

Couch says he expects other groups who have used the petition gathering process to join in the lawsuit.