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Early voting officially opens to voters in Arkansas on Monday

It’s finally here.

Voters can begin to voice their opinions on the direction of Arkansas and the nation by casting their ballots as early voting officially begins on Monday.

This election cycle has a high chance of being a referendum on the Democrat party as inflation, high gas prices, high crime, and potential nuclear war in Ukraine continue to weigh on the minds of voters. The latest polls have shown a significant shift in favor of Republicans after they lost ground earlier this summer over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

While polling turned sour on Republicans following the vote, the issue has fallen out of the lime light despite Democrats’ best efforts to make this years election about abortion and women’s rights.

Democrats nation wide now argue that democracy is at stake if Republicans regain control of the House and Senate and have continued to focus on the J6 riot that took place two years ago, while Republicans have honed in on high inflation, illegal immigration, government corruption, high energy prices and supply chain issues.

Democrats have recently been accused by Republicans of attempting to buy votes by attempting to pay off student loan debt and by using the nation’s emergency war time oil reserves to lower fuel costs weeks before the election.

And while Arkansas is expected to remain in Republican control, voters have several votes to cast this year to determine several amendments to the states constitution.

This election cycle has seen four separate ballot issues to land in voters laps, ranging from the legalization of marijuana to allowing the State Legislature to call special sessions.

Here’s a break down of each ballot issue.

Ballot Issue 1

Under Ballot Issue 1, the Arkansas Legislature is proposing an amendment that would give them the authority to call special meetings of the legislature at any time. Under the current constitution, only the governor has the power to call for special meetings at this time.

If approved, the proposal would amend Section 5 of Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution, which covers when special meetings can take place. The new section would allow legislatures to call a special session at any time if the House speaker and the Senate president jointly decide to convene lawmakers.

The speaker and the president would set the agenda for the meeting.

A special meeting could also be called if two-thirds of the legislature signs a written proclamation calling for a special session. To reach the two-thirds needed, 67 out of the 100 House representatives would be needed, with 24 of the state’s 35 senators signing on as well.

Since 2000, Arkansas’s Governors have called 17 special sessions that have covered various topics, including tax credits for businesses, income tax cuts, COVID-19 policy, school funding, and resolution of conflicts created by new laws.

Ballot Issue 2

Under the proposed amendment, Arkansas legislators have proposed to increase the percentage of votes required to pass most statewide ballot issues.

Currently, a simple majority of votes are needed for statewide ballot issues to pass and become law. This percentage is described as “50% plus one vote” or a simple majority.

Issue 2 proposes amending the three sections of the Arkansas Constitution governing ballot issues to require a “super majority” vote for constitutional amendments and initiatives to go into effect. Specifically, Issue 2 proposes: 

  •     Increasing the percentage of votes required to pass constitutional amendments proposed by citizen groups from 50% to 60%.
  •     Increasing the percentage of votes required to pass constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature from 50% to 60%.
  •     Increasing the percentage of votes required to pass state laws proposed by citizen groups from 50% to 60%. 

Requirements for citizen-sponsored referendums, which ask voters to decide the fate of existing laws, would remain unchanged and be decided by a simple majority of voters.

Between 2000 and 2020, Arkansas voters considered 40 proposed constitutional amendments and state laws that the legislature and citizen groups had referred to. Voters approved 30 of these ballot issues and rejected the remaining 10 proposals. 

Of the 30 measures voters passed, 18 received at least 60% voter approval. 

This means that 12 of the 30 proposals that Arkansas voters passed in the last 20 years would not have satisfied the proposed 60% voter approval requirement.

Ballot Issue 3

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Senate and House of Representatives voted to place Issue 3, then known as SJR14, on the 2022 General Election Ballot. The Arkansas Constitution grants the legislature the right to include up to three constitutional amendments on the general election ballot. The fourth constitutional amendment is reserved for citizen-proposed amendments to the Arkansas Constitution.

SJR14 proposed to create the “Arkansas Religious Freedom Amendment” to “provide that government may never burden a person’s freedom of religion except in the rare circumstance that the government demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”

Supporters of the amendment state that courts and opinions change over time and that the state should use the strongest language to deal with the issue. They also argue that it would create a barrier to infringements on religious freedom at the local level.

On the other hand, opponents against the amendment argue that it is redundant and would place citizens in a weaker position were the issue to be challenged under the First Amendment.

Opponents also say that nothing in the amendment explains what remedies are available to the public should an individual or group adversely impact the rights and liberties of another individual or group.

It should be noted that the amendment provides no definition for what burdens are nor defines what a “compelling government interest” is.

In Arkansas, the issue of religious freedom hasn’t been put forth to voters since 1874, when voters approved Article II, Section 24 of the Arkansas Constitution.

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in response to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case over how to judge and determine the government’s burden on free exercise claims. The RFRA set out to prohibit federal, state, and local governments from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.

The RFRA was found unconstitutional in 1997 by the Supreme Court, which argued that the bill exceeded Congress’ enforcement power as applied to state and local governments. The RFRA is still the law regarding the federal government’s impact on a person’s exercise of religion.

In 2015, Arkansas passed Act 975, which mirrors Congress’ RFRA bill. Arkansas is one of the 20 states to adopt bills mirroring the RFRA.

The Baxter County Quorum Court has passed a resolution denouncing the proposed constitutional amendment, stating that they believed the amendment would give the state more power to restrict religious freedoms during declared emergencies.

Ballot Issue 4

Arkansas is one of 15 states where citizen groups can put a proposed constitutional amendment, state law, or veto referendum on the ballot with voter petitions.

Constitutional amendments require verified voter signatures from at least 10% of the people who voted for governor in the last election, with a certain percentage coming from at least 15 counties. In 2022, the total required number was 89,151 voter signatures.

The amendment to decriminalize personal marijuana usage is the only amendment on this year’s ballot to have gone through the court system. After a lawsuit was filed to stop the amendment from being on the ballot, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled votes cast for or against Issue 4 would be counted on Sept. 22.

The court filing and opinion may be found and read here.

This citizen-proposed amendment asks voters to change the Arkansas Constitution to allow and regulate cannabis, also referred to as marijuana, for non-medical purposes. The proposal also would make numerous changes to add, alter or remove parts of Amendment 98, currently known as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016.

For people 21 and older buying marijuana, this amendment would:

Make the possession of one ounce of marijuana for non-medical personal use legal under Arkansas state law for adults while recognizing the drug remains illegal under federal law.

Allow medical marijuana cardholders to purchase non-medical marijuana without that amount counting toward how much they can purchase for medical purposes.

Regarding cultivation facilities that grow marijuana, this amendment would:

  • Allow licensed cultivators to grow, prepare, manufacture, process, package, sell and deliver marijuana to dispensaries for non-medical purposes.
  • Grant owners of eight existing medical marijuana cultivation facilities a second license to grow marijuana for non-medical sales. These facilities do not limit the number of plants they can grow at any time.
  • The state must issue 12 additional marijuana cultivation licenses for growing non-medical marijuana. Cultivators that receive these new licenses could not grow more than 250 plants at one time and could not sell their product for medical marijuana use. The licenses would be issued via a lottery system.
  • Regarding dispensaries selling marijuana to the public, this amendment would
  • Automatically give the existing 40 medical marijuana dispensaries a license to sell marijuana for non-medical uses at their current location starting March 8, 2023.
  • Automatically give the existing 40 medical marijuana dispensaries a second license to sell non-medical marijuana at another location at least five miles away from any medical marijuana dispensary
  • The state must issue 40 additional non-medical marijuana dispensary licenses using a lottery system.
  • Allow people to have a financial interest in up to 18 non-medical marijuana dispensaries.
  • Allow dispensaries to possess, make, deliver or sell items such as pipes, bongs, rolling papers, roach clips, and other items previously prohibited for them to sell.
  • Increase the number of mature marijuana plants a medical marijuana dispensary may grow or possess at one time from 50 plants to 100 plants.
  • Require non-medical marijuana dispensaries to purchase marijuana only from state-licensed cultivation facilities and dispensaries.
  • Eliminate the ability of dispensaries to accept marijuana seedlings, plants, or usable marijuana from out-of-state dispensaries.
  • Eliminate the ability of dispensaries to transfer or sell marijuana seeds, plants, or other usable marijuana to out-of-state dispensaries if federal law ever permits it.
  • Eliminate the ability of dispensaries to accept marijuana seeds from out-of-state suppliers.
  • For all marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries, this amendment would:
  • Repeal Arkansas residency requirements for owners.
  • No longer require criminal background checks on people who own less than 5% of the business.
  • Prohibit the businesses from opening within a certain distance from a facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. This is in addition to existing distance requirements for schools, churches, and daycare centers. Dispensaries must be located at least 1,500 feet away, and cultivation facilities at least 3,000 feet from these institutions.

Related to taxes and licensing fees, this amendment would:

  • No longer allow taxes on medical marijuana, which would repeal requirements on how existing state tax revenues are distributed.
  • Allow the state to charge an additional 10% sales tax on non-medical marijuana sales at dispensaries. This would result in consumers paying up to 16.5% in state sales tax on non-medical marijuana purchases in addition to any city and county sales taxes on their purchases.
  • Require sales tax proceeds from non-medical marijuana sales be used for: (1) paying law enforcement stipends every year, (2) supporting the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, (3) funding drug court programs, and (4) contributing to state general funds.
  • Require lawmakers to use licensing fees and sales taxes from non-medical marijuana sales to pay the cost of regulating the marijuana program by state agencies.

If approved by voters, this amendment also would:

  • Remove a requirement that food or drinks combined with marijuana for medical purposes not exceed 10 milligrams (10 mg) of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per portion. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.
  • Remove the authority lawmakers have to change parts of Amendment 98, and instead require any future changes to be approved by voters.
  • Delete a section that says the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division establishes advertising restrictions for dispensaries and cultivation facilities related to artwork, building signage, product design, indoor displays, and other medical marijuana-related advertising. The ballot measure would replace that wording with a requirement that the Division establishes advertising restrictions that are “narrowly tailored” to ensure advertising isn’t designed to appeal to children. Packaging also must be child-resistant and designed in a way that doesn’t appeal to children.
  • Authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division to issue and renew licenses for non-medical marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries, establish labeling requirements, and set other rules and regulations.
  • Allow transporters and distributors licensed under Amendment 98 to also deliver marijuana to dispensaries and cultivation facilities selling non-medical marijuana.
  • Prohibit cities and counties from creating or changing existing zoning laws in a way to restrict dispensaries and cultivation facilities from operating in non-residential areas.
  • Allow cities and counties to hold local elections on whether to allow non-medical marijuana sales within their boundaries.
  • Establish that the amendment would not prohibit employers from having drug-free workplace policies or property owners from being able to restrict or prohibit the combustion of cannabis on private property.
  • Establish that the amendment would not affect existing laws regarding driving under the influence, activities related to cannabis not expressly authorized by law, or purchase, possession, or consumption of cannabis by minors.

In 2016, Arkansas voters approved The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, which established a legal process in the state to grow, sell, buy and possess marijuana for specific medical purposes.

Voters approved the citizen-led ballot measure by a vote of 585,030 (53%) in favor to 516,525 (47%) against. The proposal became Amendment 98 of the Arkansas Constitution.

The first medical marijuana was sold in Arkansas in 2019. In 2021, the state received medical marijuana card applications from 94,142 people.

How and Where to Vote

There are currently three ways to cast a ballot in Arkansas. Voters can vote through an absentee ballot, in-person during the early voting period, or in-person on election day.

Absentee ballots must be requested through the Baxter County Clerk. Voters qualify to vote via absentee ballot if they will be absent, are ill, are disabled, or are temporarily living outside the United States but permanently residing in Baxter County. Ballots are only available in English. Voters can bring someone with them to help translate. Electronic machines are used for voting on Election Day. Paper is used for absentee voting and sometimes for early voting.

Arkansas state law requires voters to show a photo ID when voting in person. People voting with an absentee ballot must also include a copy of their photo ID.

Voting is still allowed without a photo ID, but the vote will not be counted until an ID is brought to election officials. Voters have until noon on the Monday following the election to show their photo ID in person to the county clerk or county board of election commissioners. Election workers will ask voters for their name, address, and photo ID at voting locations.

Photo IDs you can use to vote include:

  •       Arkansas driver’s license or state ID card
  •         U.S. Passport
  •         U.S. Military ID
  •         Employee badge or ID issued by Arkansas college or university
  •         Concealed handgun carry license
  •         Public assistance identification card
  •         Voter verification photo ID card issued by County Clerk

Early voting for the General Election will start on Monday, Oct. 24 thru Friday, Nov. 4, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 26 and Nov. 5) polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 7, polls will open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m.

Early Voting locations will be:

Baxter County Courthouse – 1 East 7th., Mountain Home

Baxter County Fairgrounds – 1507 Fairgrounds Drive, Mountain Home

Election Commission Headquarters – 213 E 5th St., Mountain Home

November 8, General Election Day polls open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. at the following locations and addresses:

  1. Baxter County Courthouse, 1 East 7th St. Mountain Home, AR.72653
  2. Big Flat, Big Flat City Hall, Hwy 14, Big Flat, AR. 72951
  3. Eastside Baptist Church, 718 East 9th St., Mountain Home, AR. 72653
  4. Henderson Fire Station, 12487 Hwy 62 East, Henderson, AR. 72544
  5. Lakeview City Hall, 14 Skyles Lane, Lakeview, AR
  6. Lone Rock Baptist Church, 6726 Push Mountain Road, Norfork, AR 72658
  7. Midway Safety Training Center, 170 Dillard Drive, Midway, AR. 72651
  8. Northeast Lakeside Fire Station, 5482 Hwy 62 East, Mountain Home, AR.72653
  9. Norfork First Baptist Church, 36 Second St., Norfork, AR.72658
  10. Salesville Community Center, 46 Gillespie St., Salesville, AR. 72653
  11. Baxter County Fairgrounds, 1507 Fairgrounds Drive, Mountain Home, AR. 72653
  12. Wesley United Methodist Church, 179 Memory Lane, Cotter, AR.72626
  13. Election Commission Headquarters, 213 E. 5th ST., Mountain Home, AR 72653

A list of appointed election officials, deputy clerks or additional deputies hired to conduct the early voting can be located on the door of the Baxter County & Circuit Clerk’s office beginning Friday, Oct. 7

Any person who makes an objection to the service of a designated poll worker must make it known to the County Board of Election Commissioners within seven calendar days. The deadline for objections must be received before the date of the election.

Contact:

Baxter County Election Commissioners                                      Judy Garner

Baxter County Courthouse                               (or call)               479-755-5412

1 East 7th St.

Mountain Home, AR 72653    

Votes will be tabulated at the Baxter County Courthouse after the closing of the polls on Election Day.

Hearings will be held for Provisional Ballots that are rejected on the following Monday, Nov. 14, from 10 a.m. till noon.

The deadline to register to vote in the Primary Runoff Election was Oct.9.

Sample Ballots are available online at https://www.voterview.ar-nova.org.

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