Arkansas election officials checking signatures of 3 measures vying for November ballot

Boxes of petitions signed for a proposed ballot measure aimed at repealing a Pope County casino’s license are delivered to the old Supreme Court chamber at the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Friday, July 5, 2024. The measure is among several that faced a Friday deadline to submit signatures to qualify for the November ballot. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

Supporters of proposals to expand Arkansas’ medical marijuana program and repeal a casino license turned in thousands of signatures on Friday to try and get their measures before voters in the November election.

Organizers of the initiative campaigns, along with an effort to scale back the state’s abortion ban, said they turned in more than enough signatures to qualify. Groups behind education and government transparency measures, as well as a proposal to exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from sales taxes, fell short.

Election workers will spend the coming weeks checking the petitions and validating signatures. The proposed constitutional amendments will need at least 90,704 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify. The groups said they also met a requirement that they gather a minimum number of signatures from 50 of the state’s 75 counties.

The medical marijuana proposal expands a legalization measure that the state’s voters approved in 2016. The changes, if approved by voters, would broaden the definition of medical professionals who can certify patients for medical cannabis. The group behind the proposal said it gathered more than 111,000 signatures.

“Our canvassers found voters eager to place an amendment on the ballot that will eliminate barriers to access and make it less expensive to acquire and keep a medical marijuana card,” Bill Paschall with Arkansans for Patient Access, the group behind the proposal, said in a statement.

Election officials have 30 days to check the validity of the signatures submitted. Groups behind the measure could qualify for 30 additional days to circulate petitions if they gather at least 75% of the signatures requires, both statewide and in each of the 50 counties.

The Arkansas secretary of state’s office said it has hired 90 temporary workers to assist with checking signatures.

The casino measure is aimed at blocking the license for a Pope County casino that has been hung up by legal challenges for the past several years. Pope County was one of four sites where casinos were allowed to be built under a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2018. Casinos have already been set up in the other three locations.

The group behind the measure said it gathered more than 162,000 signatures.

Even if the signatures for the initiatives are verified, they could face still face additional obstacles. The Family Council Action Committee on Friday said it would support legal challenges to the marijuana and abortion measures if they make the ballot.

Supporters of a proposal that would have any schools that receive public funding to follow the same standards as traditional public schools didn’t submit petitions, saying they fell short. The proposed constitutional amendment was a response to a school voucher program Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law last year.

Organizers behind measures strengthening the public’s access to public records and meetings also said they were unable to gather enough signatures by Friday’s deadline. One of the proposals would have made government transparency a constitutional right.

The proposals were prompted by a push by Sanders last year to shield a broad range of public records from release under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Sanders later signed a scaled-back version that exempted her travel and security records. Organizers said they planned to try and get the proposed amendment on the 2026 ballot.

Supporters of a proposed initiative exempting feminine hygiene products and diapers from sales taxes faced a lower requirement for signatures but also fell short. The campaign followed similar efforts in other states by advocates in other states who have called taxing the products discriminatory.