Secretary Of State's Office Slogs Through Petition Verification Process

Jul 7, 2016

A canvassers gathers signatures for a petitition.
Credit WESA

The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office is expecting to have to verify tens of thousands more petition signatures for proposed constitutional amendments in the state. 

Friday is the deadline for campaigns to hand in petitions if they want their measures placed on the November ballot. Kerry Baldwin with the office says it’s sometimes a daunting task going through all the names and addresses to make sure the signers are registered voters.

“[It’s] a lot of work. I’ve done it myself in my years in the elections division here at the Secretary of State’s office. You quickly get a headache from looking at all of those names and addresses and numbers…The folks here at the elections division have done a great job.”

On Thursday, the group Arkansans for Compassionate Care heard back that 77,516 of their signatures had been validated, allowing the measure that legalizes medical marijuana to appear on the ballot this November. The group needed 67,887 signatures for its proposed initiated act to reach the ballot. The number of signatures required for initiated acts is determined by calculating eight percent of the number of people who participated in the most recent election for governor.

A handful of other groups are also trying to get constitutional amendments on the ballot. Constitutional amendments require signatures from 10 percent of the number of people who cast votes in the state’s last gubernatorial election. In this case, it’s 84,859 signatures. 

Baldwin says the Secretary of State’s office hired about 40 temporary workers to verify the most recent batch of signatures from the Arkansans for Compassionate Care petition drive. The temporary help joined approximately a dozen permanent staff in the process. She says the office will still need about 40 temporary hands to help in running through the remaining petitions.

But Baldwin says even before individual signatures are verified, the elections staff has to go through a checklist when examining petitions.  

“Every signature page has to have the full wording of the initiated act or referendum attached to it physically. So we first double check all of that for every single petition that has been turned in. We count them. We count them by counties…We then count how many signatures are on each page so we can have a good number of how many signatures were turned in,” she says.

Baldwin says there can also be many reasons for petition signatures being invalidated. Duplicate signatures are discarded. Petitions not signed by canvassers can be thrown out. Petitions can be disqualified if they aren’t notarized or properly labeled by the canvasser.  Failure to attach the popular name and ballot title to each petition sheet can also disqualify signatures.

On Friday, petition signatures are expected for a constitutional amendment to allow casinos in three counties. A separate campaign for a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana is also expected to hand in signatures. A campaign for an amendment that could limit the amount of money awarded in medical lawsuits may also submit signatures. A group petition to strengthen term limits for legislators announced Thursday they were short of the needed signature threshold.