Case Summary

On April 22, 2020, Arkansas Voters First filed suit against John Thurston, acting in his capacity as Secretary of State of Arkansas, contending that the regular signature petition requirements of the state ought to be amended to accommodate petitioners during the Coronavirus Pandemic. They asked that requirements for in-person signatures, witnesses, and notary requirements ought to be lifted, that electronic signature gathering ought to be permitted, and that the signature deadline be moved to August 3.

A district judge permitted the circulators to not witness signatures, but did not permit them to collect electronic signatures. He also did not move back the signature deadline. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that order. Arkansas Voters First announced that they submitted over 100,000 signatures on July 6, 2020. On July 14, the Secretary of State wrote in a letter to Arkansas Voters First that the proposed amendment would not be placed on the ballot. The Secretary of State ruled that all signatures collected by AVF were invalid because petitioners certified that they acquired (rather than passed) criminal background checks on canvassers. A.C.A. § 7-9-601(b)(3) reads in part "... the sponsor shall certify to the Secretary of State that each paid canvasser in the sponsor’s employ has passed a criminal background check in accordance with this section."

The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The district court ruling to grant permanent injunctive relief was overturned because, in the opinion of the court, the in-person signature and notarization requirements were not subject to strict scrutiny, so First Amendment arguments fail on the merits.

Case Library

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - 5:20-cv-05070

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit - 20-2095