Arkansas election official rejects proposed abortion ballot measure

A voter marks a ballot during primary elections at a Wyandotte County polling station

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) - The top Arkansas election official has rejected petitions submitted to qualify an abortion rights measure for November's ballot in the Republican-dominated state, saying organizers failed to provide required paperwork - a conclusion they disputed.

In a letter on Wednesday, Republican Secretary of State John Thurston told organizers they did not include two statements required by law listing paid canvassers and affirming they were told about the rules for gathering signatures.

Arkansans for Limited Government, the organization behind the effort, issued a statement saying it had submitted the proper documentation and called Thurston's assertion "absurd and demonstrably, undeniably incorrect."

The group sent a formal response to Thurston on Thursday, asserting it had provided the required documents in June and submitting the paperwork again.

The coalition handed in more than 101,000 signatures last week, more than the 90,704 minimum needed to qualify a ballot measure to be put before voters. Thurston said his office determined that 14,143 of the signatures had been collected by paid canvassers, leaving the total collected by unpaid volunteers short of the necessary minimum.

Advocates are working to put abortion rights measures before voters in nearly a dozen states in 2024, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had recognized a constitutional right to abortion and legalized the procedure nationwide.

Since that ruling, voters have decided every statewide measure – seven in all – in favor of expanding or protecting reproductive rights, including in conservative-leaning states such as Kentucky and Ohio.

Abortion is banned in almost all circumstances under a Republican-backed law passed in Arkansas.

The proposed ballot measure would guarantee abortion rights up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions beyond that for rape, incest, cases in which the woman's health or life is at risk or cases in which the fetus is unlikely to survive.

Arkansans for Limited Government said it worked closely with Thurston's staff throughout the process to ensure compliance.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Editing by Matthew Lewis)