Arkansas veto referendum on LEARNS Act falls short of required signatures

Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) submitted signatures on July 31 to place a veto referendum on the Nov. 2024 ballot to repeal the LEARNS Act, an education bill signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R).

To qualify for the ballot, 54,422 valid signatures are needed from 50 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. A count of raw signatures showed CAPES submitted 53,444, falling at least 978 signatures short of the number required.

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston said CAPES also did not submit an official affidavit indicating the total number of signatures being filed. Thurston said, “Instead of the required affidavit, you submitted a document asserting that you collected only 53,675 signatures and only met the county distribution requirement in 48 counties. Thus, your own submission represented that you failed to meet both the total signature and county distribution requirements.”

Steve Grappe, executive director of CAPES, said, “We are very disappointed they did not show we met the minimum totals. We are confident that if we had the time the Constitution allows, we would have far exceeded the minimum.”

In 2023, the Arkansas State Legislature passed and Gov. Sanders signed House Bill 1419, which increased the number of counties where a minimum number of signatures for a citizen-initiated measure must come from. This is known as a distribution requirement. Under HB 1419, a certain number of signatures must come from at least 50 of 75 counties. Previously, the requirement was at least 15 of 75 counties.

State Sen. Bryan King (R-28) and the League of Women Voters of Arkansas sued Secretary of State John Thurston, asking the 6th Judicial Circuit Court to block HB 1419 as violating the Arkansas Constitution. The lawsuit is ongoing.

CAPES said, “The Executive Branch, under the leadership of Governor Sanders, used the Legislative Branch and Attorney General’s office to actively bypass the Constitutional rights of the Citizens of the State of Arkansas to actively participate in direct democracy. CAPES will pursue this issue to the fullest extent as allowed by law.”

Since 1934, nine veto referendums have appeared on the ballot in Arkansas. In all but one case, the referendum effort resulted in the targeted law being repealed. The last time a veto referendum qualified for the ballot in Arkansas was in 1994.

Additional reading:

Changes in 2023 to laws governing ballot measures

List of veto referendum ballot measures