LITTLE ROCK – A proposed ballot initiative to ban unmarried couples who live together from adopting or fostering children in Arkansas qualified for the November general election Monday, setting up a likely legal challenge by opponents to keep the measure from going before voters.
The secretary of state’s office announced a second batch of petitions submitted by supporters last week pushed the number of valid signatures of registered voters pushed the proposal past the 61,794-signature threshold for certification to the Nov. 4 ballot.
Signatures submitted by the initial July 1 deadline fell about 4,000 short, and supporters of the measure got another 30 days under state law to make up the difference. They turn in about 24,000 more last Thursday. A total of 85,379 signatures were certified as valid, according to the secretary of state’s office.
“We’re trying to put this measure in the hands of Arkansas voters and let them decide whether they want to protect children,” Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee, the Christian conservative group pushing the measure, said Monday.
However, even before the supplemental round of signature-gathering, opponents of the proposal said they would go to court to try to keep it off the ballot.
Debbie Willhite, spokeswoman for the group Arkansas Families First, said Monday a lawsuit challenging the proposed initiated act could be filed as early as next week, possibly alleging canvassing irregularities, discrimination against a class of people – unmarried, cohabiting adults – and that the ballot title is misleading.
“If we can’t keep it off the ballot, we’re going to put up a vigorous campaign to defeat this heinous proposal,” Willhite said.
Cox said he expects a legal challenge and believes the proposal will stand up in court. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, whose office certified the proposal’s name and ballot title but who has said he personally opposes it, said last week he believed the initiative had firm legal footing.
Challenging statewide ballot initiatives has had mixed results over the past two decades.
Four years ago, the Family Council won a legal challenge to the anti-gay marriage amendment it proposed and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure that defines marriage as only between and man and a woman. Two years earlier, the state Supreme Court turned back a legal challenge of a ballot proposal to eliminate the state sales tax on food and medicine. The measure failed at the polls.
In 1996, Arkansas’ highest court struck three of four proposed gambling amendments from the general election ballot. Voters rejected the one the Supreme Court left on the ballot.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels certified for the November ballot Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’ proposed constitutional amendment to authorize a state-run lottery to pay for college scholarships.
Two proposed constitutional amendments referred by the Legislature – one authorizing annual legislative sessions and the other removing outdated language from the constitution and loosening restrictions on who can serve as a poll worker – will appear on the ballot this fall, along with Arkansas Water Bond Act of 2008.