Canvassers who rely on spring festivals and events to collect voter signatures needed to put constitutional amendments and state laws on the ballot are seeing these opportunities disappearing in light of COVID-19.
One group, Arcade Arkansas, started collecting signatures in September for its gaming proposal. A spokesperson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday that the spread of COVID-19 has complicated the signature-gathering effort.
Other groups are updating their volunteers through Facebook, urging alternatives for collecting voter signatures.
Arkansas True Grass organizers have told people on their Facebook group to request a petition to be mailed to them, hoping people will get them signed and notarized before sending them back. They're also asking for donations to help cover the cost of the unexpected printing and postage.
I wished we could somehow get legislators to provide a way for people to sign a petition electronically," said Mary Lou Berry with Arkansas True Grass. "It would be much safer and would help the voices of those shut in that don't go out, who do vote by absentee ballots. Why not provide the people a way to sign electronically?"
Berry helped write another proposed constitutional amendment,
The Arkansas Digital Petition Signing Option Act,
to allow voters to sign petitions electronically. However they haven't started collecting any signatures for the ballot measure yet.
Another group seeking to legalize marijuana for personal use and to address past criminal convictions related to marijuana has also urged people on Facebook to take caution and to take measures to keep themselves healthy and not spread the virus.
"Your lives and your family's life is much more important than signatures," Melissa Fults posted on the Drug Policy Education Group-Arkansas page.
In an email, Fults told the Public Policy Center that signature gathering has drastically slowed due to the precautions for the coronavirus.
"We are at 15,000 [signatures] right now, but if it breaks by May 1 we should [b]e able to gather the required number of signatures," Fults said.
Thirteen proposed constitutional amendments and state laws have been filed with the Secretary of State's Office for the November ballot. In addition, Arkansas legislators have referred three amendments to voters and a group collected enough signatures for a referendum on a 2019 state law.
Ballot issue groups have until July 3 to submit the required 89,151 voter signatures for amendments and 71,321 voter signatures for state laws. Those signatures must come from at least 15 different counties.
See our "Signature Collecting: What's Circulating?" section below for a list of the 13 ballot measures filed with the Secretary of State's Office. There is one additional proposal since our February newsletter,
The Arkansas Citizen's Redistricting Commission Amendment
. If passed, the amendment would create a nine-member commission responsible for establishing the boundaries of legislative and Congressional districts after the Census occurs every 10 years.