Miller v. Thurston, No. 20-2095 (8th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
AVF is sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution’s redistricting provisions and began circulating a petition during the COVID–19 pandemic. The Arkansas Constitution and statutes require canvassers to attach to the petition an affidavit affirming that all the petition signatures were made in the presence of the canvasser. The plaintiffs claim they cannot comply with these requirements during the pandemic; all are particularly vulnerable to COVID–19 because of age or medical conditions. They claimed enforcement of the requirements during the pandemic would impermissibly burden their First Amendment rights to express their position on a political matter. The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the requirements.
The Eighth Circuit reversed. The district court erroneously applied strict scrutiny; neither requirement violates the First Amendment. The court noted that the right to a state initiative process is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but is created by state law; states have considerable leeway to protect the integrity of the process. The Arkansas Code provides accommodations for individuals who require assistance signing an initiative petition and, even without those accommodations, there are simple ways to safely comply with the in-person signature requirement during the pandemic. The requirement imposes real burdens but not severe burdens, and serves important interests in preventing signatures from ineligible voters.