By Associated Press - Saturday, October 17, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that two proposed amendments will not be removed from the general election ballot next month, upholding a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case against the secretary of state.

Tom Steele, chairman of the Arkansas Term Limits committee, filed the lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State John Thurston in an effort to remove two separate ballot measures.

Steele argued that the ballot titles are misleading, insufficient and fail to inform voters of their specific proposals and, as a result, the substantial changes made by the two amendments constitute manifest fraud. Last month, Pulaski County Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit, and Steele appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

The high court ruled Thursday that Steele’s appeal did not overcome the ”‘enormous hurdle’ of the manifest fraud standard,” the court said.

“Thus, viewing the facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to Steele, we hold that the circuit court properly ruled that Issue 2 and Issue 3 comply with the requirements of article 19, section 22 of the Arkansas Constitution,” the court concluded.

The court also ruled that the ballot titles “sufficiently identify and distinguish the proposed amendments from others on the ballot and in the public.”

One proposed amendment, Issue 3, would make it more difficult to qualify proposed constitutional amendments, initiated acts or referendum. Another ballot measure, Issue 2, would eliminate lifetime term limits for state lawmakers.

Steele’s attorney, David Couch, disagreed with the court’s decision in a statement.

“No voter will actually know what they are voting for when they cast their vote on Issues 2 and 3,” Couch said. “The Supreme Court permitted this deception by the politicians while during this same election cycle removed all three measures proposed by the people for a hyper-technical reason.”

Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for Thurston, would not comment on the ruling.

Stephanie Sharp, a spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Rutledge is satisfied that the high court ruled that the proposed amendments are valid.

“This decision will give Arkansas voters the opportunity to consider both issues during this election,” Sharp said.

The proposed amendments are the subject of another pending lawsuit in circuit court.

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