Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing Arkansas Voters First, a nonpartisan grassroots organization that is fighting gerrymandering by seeking to let Arkansas voters have a say in the redrawing of district lines through an independent commission. Arkansas is the eighth worst gerrymander in the U.S., according to USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute.
The lead plaintiff is Bonnie Miller, President of The League of Women Voters – Washington County, Arkansas. Miller is one of the leaders of the signature campaign.
On April 22, 2020, CLC and Arkansas Voters First filed a lawsuit against Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston to seek several protections for voters who wish to have their voice heard in the democratic process while also protecting their health. The suit asks the court to waive witness requirements for petition signatures, delay the submission deadline beyond July 3 and allow for the submission of electronic signatures.
State law requires us to get 89,151 signatures to appear on the ballot, an enormous burden given social distancing. Even more problematic is the witness requirement. Arkansas has one of the most onerous requirements in the country. Not only must the signatures be witnessed, the canvassers must swear an oath before a notary public that they witnessed the signatures.
Under ordinary circumstances this would be difficult work, but during a global pandemic, this requirement is nearly impossible. Many potential signees, including plaintiff Adella Gray, live in places like retirement communities and are unable to leave their homes or have visitors to sign petitions. Gray is also immunocompromised and at a higher risk for contracting coronavirus.
There is strong bipartisan support for the Arkansas Citizen’s Redistricting Commission Amendment. According to a nonpartisan poll commissioned by Arkansas Voters First, 58% of all voters support the creation of independent redistricting commissions.