Non-profit

Arkansas Voters First

Website:

arvotersfirst.org/

Type:

Non-profit

Chair:

Bonnie Miller

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Arkansas Voters First is the ballot proposal committee responsible for a proposed amendment to the Arkansas state constitution that seeks to remove from the state legislature the power to redraw U.S. House and state legislative district boundaries and instead create a new state commission to exercise this power. As of mid-September 2020, the amendment proposed by Arkansas Voters First had failed to obtain a place on the November 2020 general election ballot. Though Arkansas Voters First had attempted to submit the required number of valid signatures in support of placing the proposal on the ballot, the Arkansas Secretary of State ruled that too many of the names had been collected by signature gatherers who had not been proven to have passed a state-mandated criminal background check. At the end of August 2020, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the Secretary of State’s ruling. 1 2

More than half of the direct and in-kind financial support for Arkansas Voters First was provided by three left-leaning advocacy groups: the Action Now Initiative, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Represent.US Education Fund. 3

Background

Arkansas Voters First is the ballot proposal committee responsible for the “Redistricting Commission Amendment,” a proposed amendment to the Arkansas state constitution that would appear as Issue 4 on the November 2020 general election ballot. If submitted to and approved by voters, the proposal would remove from the state legislature the power to redraw U.S. House and state legislative district boundaries and instead create a new state commission—the “Citizen’s Redistricting Commission”—to draft and approve the political district maps. 4

Nine Arkansas residents would serve on the proposed Citizens’ Redistricting Commission. It would be comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats, and three members alleged to be unaffiliated with either party. Lobbyists and former lawmakers would not be permitted as commission members. 5

Legal Disputes

On August 27, 2020, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the Redistricting Commission Amendment (by this point also identified as Issue 4) did not have sufficient valid signatures to appear on the November 2020 general election ballot. Arkansas election law requires that each person collecting signatures for ballot proposals seeking changes to the state constitution must pass a criminal background check. Though Arkansas Voters First had submitted what it believed to be enough valid signatures in July, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (R) ruled that too many of the names had been collected by signature gatherers who had not been in compliance with the background check requirement. In a 6-1 ruling, the state’s highest court upheld the Secretary of State’s decision. 6

As of September 2, 2020, Arkansas Voters First had filed a petition for the state supreme court to rehear the case, and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas had filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to challenge the state court ruling and place the proposal on the ballot. The Campaign Legal Center, a left-leaning non-profit law firm, was identified as representing both Arkansas Voters First and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas in their respective legal challenges. 7 8

Supporters

According to Ballotpedia, the online encyclopedia of American politics and elections, Arkansas Voters First raised more than $4 million and spent more than $3.5 million (as of mid-September 2020) in the effort to place the Redistricting Commission Amendment on the November 2020 ballot. At least half of the funding (more than $2.1 million) was in direct and in-kind assistance from the Action Now Initiative, a political advocacy organization in Houston founded by Laura and John Arnold. The left-leaning Campaign Legal Center was listed as contributing $461,000 in in-kind assistance (likely legal representation). Similarly, the Represent.US Education Fund, a left-leaning advocacy organization seeking campaign speech regulation, provided at least $95,000 in in-kind help. 9

The Arkansas Voters First ballot initiative was also associated with People Powered Fair Maps, a nationwide campaign led by the League of Women Voters. 10 11 Bonnie Miller, the chair of Arkansas Voters First, is also the president of a local League of Women Voters affiliate. 12 13

References

  1. About – FAQ. Arkansas Voters First. Accessed August 26, 2020. https://arvotersfirst.org/faq/
  2. Moritz, John. “2 Measures Kicked Off State Ballot.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette. August 28, 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/aug/28/2-measures-kicked-off-state-ballot/?news-politics
  3. “Arkansas Issue 4, Redistricting Commission Amendment (2020).” Ballotpedia. Accessed September 15, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Arkansas_Issue_4,_Redistricting_Commission_Amendment_(2020)
  4. About – FAQ. Arkansas Voters First. Accessed August 26, 2020. https://arvotersfirst.org/faq/
  5. About – FAQ. Arkansas Voters First. Accessed August 26, 2020. https://arvotersfirst.org/faq/
  6. Moritz, John. “2 Measures Kicked Off State Ballot.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette. August 28, 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/aug/28/2-measures-kicked-off-state-ballot/?news-politics
  7. Brawner, Steve. “Legislative Redistricting Group Files Federal Suit for Ballot Access.” Talk Business & Politics. September 2, 2020. Accessed September 5, 2020. https://talkbusiness.net/2020/09/legislative-redistricting-group-files-federal-suit-for-ballot-access/
  8. Press Release. “Arkansas Voters File Lawsuit to Count Petition Signatures.” League of Women Voters. September 2, 2020. Accessed September 5, 2020. https://www.lwv.org/newsroom/press-releases/arkansas-voters-file-lawsuit-count-petition-signatures
  9. “Arkansas Issue 4, Redistricting Commission Amendment (2020).” Ballotpedia. Accessed September 15, 2020. https://ballotpedia.org/Arkansas_Issue_4,_Redistricting_Commission_Amendment_(2020)
  10. Voting Rights – Redistricting – People Powered Fair Votes. League of Women Voters. Accessed September 5, 2020. https://www.lwv.org/peoplepoweredfairmaps
  11. Press Release. “Arkansas Voters File Lawsuit to Count Petition Signatures.” League of Women Voters. September 2, 2020. Accessed September 5, 2020. https://www.lwv.org/newsroom/press-releases/arkansas-voters-file-lawsuit-count-petition-signatures
  12. Facebook. Arkansas Voters First. Post from August 13, 2020. Accessed August 31, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/ARVotersFirst/
  13. Who We Are. League of Women Voters. Accessed August 31, 2020. https://www.lwvarwc.org/who-we-are/meet-our-board.html
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