A Republican-sponsored bill in the Arkansas Legislature would make it illegal to circulate petitions at or near polling places during elections.
House Bill 1025 would amend the state law about circulating petitions to limit signature-gathering within 100 feet of the primary entrance to a polling place. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, and Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock.
Bonnie Miller, president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, said the bill appears to be a remedy in search of a problem. She said there haven't been any issues around circulating petitions as people are voting.
"This is his next attempt to try to make the people's constitutional right to direct democracy in Arkansas much more difficult," she said. "We, the League of Women Voters, we believe that it is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, of our right to free speech, and to petition."
Miller said the 100-foot limit that currently exists is for candidates, to prohibit what's known as electioneering. She said voters circulating a petition are not the same thing. When Arkansans vote in a general election, she said, any issue would have already gone through a rigorous process to get onto the ballot - so there would be no reason to circulate petitions or gather signatures at a voting location. She contended that this may be another way to intimidate groups or chip away at the democratic process.
"It's not really something that happens already, because the timing just doesn't make sense with elections, and direct democracy, the whole process," she said. "I don't understand the reasoning behind this bill, except for just continue to attack it, in whatever way that they can."
It's unknown whether HB 1025 has bipartisan support, as it is newly introduced.
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