Proponents of Arkansas optometry referendum petition supreme court to count signatures and certify measure for the 2020 ballot

Safe Surgery Arkansas, sponsors of the Arkansas Practice of Optometry Referendum, reported submitting more than 84,000 signatures by the July 23 deadline to qualify a veto referendum on House Bill 1251 for a statewide vote in 2020. A total of 53,491 signatures need to be valid to qualify the measure for the ballot.
Safe Surgery Arkansas is sponsoring the veto referendum petition seeking to block optometrists from performing certain surgical procedures including the following:
  • injections, excluding intravenous or intraocular injections;
  • incision and curettage of a chalazion;
  • removal and biopsy of skin lesions with low risk of malignancy, excluding lesions involving the lid margin or nasal to the puncta;
  • laser capsulotomy; and
  • laser trabeculoplasty.
The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office said proponents submitted 23,953 valid signatures and, therefore, failed to qualify for the ballot. Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston (R) declined to count 61,065 signatures submitted by proponents, saying they were not collected in compliance with Act 376 (House Bill 346) of 2019. Act 376 changed the laws governing the initiative process in Arkansas. Act 376 contained an emergency clause that applied the new laws to petitions that were already being circulated.
Among other things, Act 376 required sponsors to submit a signed, sworn statement to the secretary of state saying that the petitioner had not been found guilty of a felony or crime of fraud, forgery, identity theft, or election law violation. Before the adoption of Act 376, that statement needed to be submitted by paid canvassers to the initiative sponsor rather than the secretary of state. The secretary of state said proponents did not properly submit the required paperwork before collecting the signatures in question.
Proponents are challenging the legality of the emergency clause and are asking the supreme court to order that the 61,065 signatures be counted and order the Secretary of State to certify the petition to the ballot.
Since the first in 1934, 10 veto referendum measures have appeared on the ballot in Arkansas. The most recent referendum was on the ballot in 2004. In all but one case, the referendum efforts resulted in the targeted law being repealed or overturned.
Nationwide since the first in 1906, 521 veto referendums appeared on the ballot in 23 states. Voters repealed 340 (65.3 percent) of the targeted laws. Voters upheld 181 (34.7 percent) of the targeted laws. The states with the most veto referendums were North Dakota (75), Oregon (68), and California (48). The states that allowed for veto referendums but had the least number of them were Wyoming (1), Nevada (2), and New Mexico (3).