LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday ordered election officials to not count votes cast for a ballot measure that would have imposed the strictest term limits in the country on state legislators.
In a 4-3 ruling disqualifying the proposed initiative, the court said that thousands of signatures submitted by supporters were invalid and should not have been counted. The court did not rule on part of the lawsuit challenging the wording of the proposed amendment.
The court agreed with a special judge it had appointed to review the petitions who said thousands of signatures should be tossed out for not complying with requirements for paid signature-gatherers.
"Not only did Issue 3's supporters fail to properly collect the signatures required by law, but the measure would have stuck Arkansans with the most restrictive term limits in our country - a step in the wrong direction," Randy Zook, president of the state Chamber of Commerce and the head of the campaign against the measure, said.
An attorney for Term Limits Arkansas, the group backing the measure, said the court relied on "hyper technical paperwork violations" to invalidate the signatures.
"This ruling does no less than strip Arkansans of their first right under the Arkansas Constitution, the right to petition the government," Chad Pekron said. "We are continuing to review the opinion and consider our next options."
The measure would have limited Arkansas lawmakers to two four-year terms in the Senate and three two-year terms in the House, with a total cap of 10 years in office. Arkansas lawmakers are currently limited to a total of 16 years in the Legislature and can serve all of that time in one chamber if they wish. They can also serve in office for longer if they serve partial terms due to redistricting or a special election.
Voters approved Arkansas' current limits in 2014 after the GOP-Legislature put the measure on the ballot. Previously, lawmakers were limited to two terms in the Senate and three in the House, for a total of 14 years. Supporters of the new limits say the Legislature misled voters by including the 16-year cap on a measure that was intended to focus on ethics and campaign finance reforms.
This year's proposal also would have prohibited the Legislature from putting any more term limit changes on the ballot.
The proposal is the second ballot measure disqualified by the state Supreme Court. Justices on Thursday upheld a judge's ruling that a measure limiting damages awarded in civil lawsuits was unconstitutional.