Jacob Testifies in Challenge to Arkansas Law
Last week, Citizens in Charge President Paul Jacob testified as an expert witness in a two-day hearing before Circuit Court Judge Mary McGowan, who is being asked to issue a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Act 1413, pending a trial on whether the statute, passed earlier this year by legislators, violates the political rights of Arkansans under the Arkansas and the U.S. Constitutions.
Jacob told the courtroom that Act 1413 would make it much more difficult for grassroots groups to effectively petition using either paid or volunteer canvassers and also that the new law would allow officials and opponents of initiatives to disallow perfectly valid signatures for the smallest of errors.
The challenge is being brought by the ACLU of Arkansas and the Public Law Center on behalf Neil Sealy with Arkansas Community Organizations, an advocacy group for the poor, and Paul Spencer, a government teacher and leader of a group advocating campaign finance reforms. Both plaintiffs testified that the “new regulations would significantly impede their grass-roots efforts to enact new laws.”
In an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, entitled “Signature holds sanctity of vote, advocate argues,” reporter John Lynch wrote:
Testifying as an expert for the plaintiffs, Paul Jacobs of Virginia, president of Citizens in Charge and Citizens in Charge Foundation, advocacy groups whose goal is protecting the right of initiative and referendum, told the judge that the Amendment 7 guarantee in the Arkansas Constitution is one of the best in the country. Only 26 states recognize that initiative and referendum right in some form, and Act 1413 will have a “serious negative impact” on efforts by people to enact laws, he told the judge.
“It is the best, most protective constitutional amendment for initiative and referendum … especially for protecting the process from legislative assault,” Jacobs said. “The Legislature doesn’t want to empower people to go around them. They want to tamp that down.”
Raised in Arkansas, with family still in the state, Jacobs said he has a particular interest in the new regulations, warning the judge that they make it easier for “perfectly valid signatures to be thrown in the trash,” when the previous law gave initiative organizers the opportunity to correct mistakes to make sure those names were counted.
Requirements that canvassers register where they live with the secretary of state’s office before they begin working will open them to the possibility of being harassed in their homes during the signature-gathering effort, particularly when they are promoting hot-button issues, Jacobs said. He told the judge he has heard complaints that canvassers who petitioned for a tax on natural gas to fund road repairs last year were “stalked” at times by opponents. Before the law changed, canvassers weren’t required to file their home addresses until after the collection was completed, he told the judge.
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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Signature holds sanctity of vote, advocate argues
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Judge to decide on public rights in petition process