Arkansas Senate Bill 821 (2013)

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Arkansas House Bill 821 (Act 1413)
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Legislature:Arkansas General Assembly
Text:SB 821
Sponsor(s):Senator Keith Ingram (D-24)
Legislative History
Introduced:March 7, 2013
State house:April 17, 2013
State senate:March 26, 2013
Governor:Mike Beebe
Signed:April 22, 2013
Legal Environment
State law:Laws governing the initiative process
Code:Elections code
Section:Title 7
Impact on initiative rights
Citizens in Charge Foundation#Legislation ratingsCICF rating:
Reduces Access
Citizens in Charge Foundation#Legislation ratings

Arkansas Senate Bill 821, known as Act 1413, which was ultimately overturned in court, was designed to make sweeping changes to the initiative and referendum process. It was introduced on March 7, 2013, by its sponsor Senator Keith Ingram (D-24) and approved in the Senate with one dissenter and five absentee or abstaining Senators. Once sent to the House, it was approved with 78 voting yes, nine voting no and 13 absent or abstaining. Governor Mike Beebe signed SB 821 into law as Act 1413 on April 22, 2013.[1][2]

On March 4, 2014, however, SB 821 (Act 1413) was overturned by Arkansas Sixth Circuit Judge Mary McGowan, who ruled that all six sections of the law violated the Arkansas Constitution.[3]


Arkansas Senate Bill 821 established the following requirements and procedural regulations:[2]

  • Sponsors must file certain information regarding paid canvassers of initiative and referendum petitions with the Secretary of State before canvassing.
  • Notice must be given to the state police or to county prosecuting attorneys of suspected forgery of signatures on petitions.
  • Sponsors of statewide petitions must assume the burden of defending the sufficiency of popular names and ballot titles in judicial proceedings.
  • The regulation of the counting of signatures on initiative and referendum petitions is established by Arkansas SB 821.
  • SB 821 repealed provisions of Arkansas Law providing for review of the legal sufficiency of statewide initiative petitions and ballot titles before completed petitions are filed.
  • SB821 declared an emergency status.


The following was provided as a description of SB 821 by the National Conference of State Legislators:

Legislative findings.

(a) The General Assembly finds that:

(1) Through Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution, the people of Arkansas have reserved to themselves the power to propose legislative measures, laws, and amendments to the Arkansas Constitution and to enact or reject the proposed measures, laws, and amendments at the polls independently of the General Assembly;

(2) The citizens of this state have an expectation that their right of initiative and referendum will be respected and that the process of gathering signatures of registered voters will be free of fraud, forgery, and other illegal conduct by sponsors, canvassers, notaries, and petitioners;

(3) Sponsors and paid canvassers may have an incentive to knowingly submit forged or otherwise invalid signatures in order to obtain additional time to gather signatures and submit supplemental petitions;

(4) In 2012, sponsors of four (4) separate initiative petitions submitted petitions to the Secretary of State containing over two hundred ninety-eight thousand (298,000) purported signatures of registered voters;

(5) Of the four petitions submitted, none had an initial validity rate in excess of fifty-six percent (56%), and three (3) of the petitions had an initial validity rate below thirty-one percent (31%); and

(6) Of the three petitions with the lowest initial validity rate, there were widespread instances of apparent fraud, forgery, and false statements in the signature-gathering process.

(b) It is further found and determined by the General Assembly that if an effort is not made to address these issues:

(1) Untrained paid canvassers will continue to obtain and submit forged and otherwise facially invalid signatures; and

(2) Unscrupulous sponsors and canvassers will continue to have an incentive to submit forged and otherwise facially invalid signatures and make false statements to the Secretary of State.

It is further found and determined by the General Assembly that if this act becomes law:

(1) Sponsors and canvassers of proposed initiative measures will be held more accountable for their actions in gathering signatures from registered voters; and

(2) The earlier determination of the insufficiency of petitions rife with false statements, forged signatures, and otherwise facially invalid signatures will result in less confusion and frustration with the initiative process.

(d) For the reasons stated in this section, the General Assembly finds that passage of this act will make sponsors and canvassers more accountable to the people of this state, facilitate the initiative process, conserve state resources, and help to restore the confidence and trust of the people in the initiative process.

Provisions of the Bill

- Requires that canvassers be at least 18 years of age, and that they register with the secretary of state prior to circulating a petition.

- Makes each of the following a Class A Misdemeanor:

(1) Signing a name other than one's own to a petition;

(2) Printing a name, address, or birth date other than one's own to a petition unless the signer requires assistance due to disability and the person complies with § 7-9-103;

(3) Soliciting or obtaining a signature to a petition knowing that the person signing is not qualified to sign the petition;

(4) Knowingly paying a person any form of compensation in exchange for signing a petition as a petitioner;

(5) Accepting or paying money or anything of value for obtaining signatures on a petition when the person acting as a canvasser, sponsor, or agent of a sponsor knows that the person acting as a canvasser is not registered with the Secretary of State or that his or her registration has been terminated or revoked.

(6) As a sponsor, filing a petition part with the official charged with verifying the signatures knowing that the petition part contains one or more false or fraudulent signatures unless each false or fraudulent signature is clearly stricken by the sponsor before filing.

- When the official charged with verifying the signatures has reasonable grounds to believe that one or more signatures on a petition is forged, excluding signatures apparently signed by one spouse for another, the official shall report the suspected forgery and basis for suspecting forgery to the Department of Arkansas State Police, in the case of a statewide petition; or the prosecuting attorney of the county, in the case of a local petition.

- Requires that petitions be circulated in a format determined by the secretary of state, and that they indicate whether a canvasser is paid or a volunteer.

- Changes procedures for counting signatures. Upon the initial filing of an initiative or referendum petition, the official charged with verifying the signatures is required to:

(1) Perform an initial count of the signatures; and

(2) Determine whether the petition contains, on its face and before verification of the signatures of registered voters, the designated number of signatures required by the Arkansas Constitution and statutory law in order to certify the measure for the election ballot.

(b) A petition part and all signatures appearing on the petition part shall not be counted for any purpose by the official charged with verifying the signatures, including the initial count of signatures, if one or more of the following is true:

(1) The petition is not an original petition, including without limitation a petition that is photocopied or is a facsimile transmission;

(2) The petition lacks the signature, printed name, and residence address of the canvasser or is signed by more than one canvasser;

(3) The canvasser is a paid canvasser who was not registered or whose registration was terminated or revoked when a petitioner signed the petition;

(4) The canvasser verification is not notarized, is notarized by more than one notary, or lacks a notary signature or a notary seal;

(5) The canvasser verification is dated earlier than the date on which a petitioner signed the petition;

(6) The petition fails to comply with § 7-9-104 or § 7-9-105, including the lack of the exact popular name or ballot title approved by the Attorney General for a statewide initiative, a discrepancy in the text of the initiated or referred measure, or the lack of an enacting clause in a statewide petition for an initiated act;

(7) The petition part of a statewide petition clearly and unmistakably contains signatures of petitioners from more than one county unless each signature of a petitioner from another county is clearly stricken before the filing of the petition with the Secretary of State; or

(8) The petition part has a material defect that, on its face, renders the petition part invalid.

The following signatures shall not be counted for any purpose by the official charged with verifying the signatures, including the initial count of signatures:

(1) A signature that is not an original signature;

(2) A signature that is obviously not that of the purported petitioner;

(3) A signature that is illegible and is accompanied by no personally identifying information;

(4) A signature for which the corresponding printed name, address, or birth date is written by someone other than the signer except under circumstances of disability of the signer; and

(5) A signature that has any other material defect that, on its face, renders the signature invalid.

(d) If the initial count of signatures under this section is less than the designated number of signatures required by the Arkansas Constitution and statutory law in order to certify the measure for the ballot and the deadline for filing petitions has passed, the official charged with verifying the signatures shall declare the petition insufficient and shall not accept and file any additional signatures to cure the insufficiency of the petition on its face.

- Permits the General Assembly to designate in the joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution the popular name and ballot title of the amendment for the election ballot.

- Repeals a provision that allows the secretary of state to declare an initiative legally insufficient.

- Creates 7-9-601, which specifies process for hiring, training and registration of paid canvassers.

- Contains an emergency clause.[4][5]


See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Arkansas

On March 4, 2014, SB 821 (Act 1413) was overturned by Arkansas Sixth Circuit Judge Mary McGowan. McGowan ruled all six section of the law unconstitutional as they put unreasonable and poorly defined regulations on the petition process, restricting the rights of the people to initiative and referendum. The Attorney General's office has announced that it will likely appeal this decision, resulting in a Arkansas Supreme Court case.[3]

Attorney David Couch, representing the plaintiffs, argued, “Say you’ve got groceries in one hand and a baby in the other, you write your name on there, and you ask the person to fill out your address for you. You could do that previously but under the new law you couldn’t do that because you could only do that if the person had a disability, although it didn’t define disability. If you didn’t follow that process then you committed a crime, so it really put the petitioners saying, ‘Wow if I make a wrong call on what is or isn’t a disability I could go to jail’."[3]

See also