Judge Eases Arkansas Petition Rules for Redistricting Group

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LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge has eased some petition rules for an Arkansas group trying to get a redistricting measure on the ballot, but declined to delay the deadline for submitting the petitions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes on Monday issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing on the redistricting group a requirement that signatures on petitions be witnessed in person. Holmes also blocked a requirement that canvassers sign an affidavit in the presence of a notary.

But Holmes declined to push back the state’s July 3 deadline for submitting petitions by a month or to allow the use of electronic signatures.

The group, Arkansas Voters First, sued the state last month and said the pandemic has made it nearly impossible to collect the 89,151 signatures from registered voters needed to qualify for the November election. 

Removing the in-person signature requirements will help initiative campaigns continue while following social distancing guidelines, David Couch, an attorney for the group, said.

“This allows people to sign the petition at a distance,” Couch said.

The group’s proposed constitutional amendment would put a nine-member commission in charge of redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

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