Arkansas election officials reject petitions submitted for an abortion-rights ballot measure

Supporters and opponents of a proposed ballot measure to scale back Arkansas' abortion ban hold signs outside the old Supreme Court chamber at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Friday, July 5, 2024. Organizers submitted petitions to try and get the proposals on the November ballot. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo) (Andrew Demillo, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas election officials on Wednesday rejected petitions submitted for an abortion-rights ballot measure that organizers hoped to put before voters this fall in a predominantly Republican state.

The secretary of state’s office rejected the petitions submitted on Friday by supporters of the proposal, saying the group didn’t submit statements required regarding paid signature gatherers.

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Organizers on Friday submitted more than 101,000 signatures. They needed at least 90,704 signatures from registered voters and a minimum number from 50 counties.

In his letter to organizers, Secretary of State John Thurston said that even if his office accepted the signatures it determined came from volunteers the total would amount to 87,382, below the required amount.

Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the proposed constitutional amendment, said it had provided documentation and had been in contact with the secretary of state's office throughout the process to ensure it was following all rules and regulations.

“We will fight this ridiculous disqualification attempt with everything we have,” the group said in a statement Wednesday night. “We will not back down.”

The measure would have barred laws banning abortion in the first 20 weeks of gestation and allowed the procedure later in pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, threats to the woman’s health or life, or if the fetus would be unlikely to survive birth.

The U.S. Supreme Court removed the nationwide right to abortion with a 2022 ruling, which sparked a national push to have voters decide the matter state by state. An Arkansas law banning abortion took effect when the court issued its ruling. Arkansas’ current ban allows abortion only to protect the mother’s life in a medical emergency.

The proposal was viewed as a test of support for abortion rights in a Republican state where top elected officials have touted their opposition to abortion.

GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who opposed the measure, posted on the social platform X after the rejection that “today the far left pro-abortion crowd in Arkansas showed they are both immoral and incompetent.”

The ballot proposal lacked support from national abortion-rights groups such as Planned Parenthood because it would still have allowed abortion to be banned 20 weeks into pregnancy.

It faced heavy opposition from abortion opponents in the state. One of the groups, the Family Council Action Committee, published the names of people gathering signatures for the measure and had vowed to challenge the proposed constitutional amendment in court if it made the ballot.

Thurston's letter cited an Arkansas law requiring campaigns to submit statements identifying paid canvassers by name and indicating that each paid canvasser was explained the rules on gathering signatures.


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