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State of Arkansas

History of Reform Efforts: Arkansas

Unsuccessful Reform Efforts

Constitutional convention held to draft new constitution, including improved judicial article that provided for nonpartisan elections with option for merit selection. New constitution was rejected by voters.

Amendment (SJR-10) sponsored by the Arkansas Bar Association’s judicial article task force and the Arkansas Judicial Council called for nonpartisan election of trial judges and merit selection of appellate judges. It passed the senate, but failed by one vote to pass the house.

Senate judiciary committee bill (SB-5) authorizing "independent" elections passed the senate by a substantial margin, but was never voted out of committee in the house and died at the end of the session. Earlier in the session, the bill had passed the senate with only one dissenting vote but was defeated in the house. These bills were opposed by the Arkansas Democratic Party, which cited the loss of filing fees each election year. It was estimated that passage of the bill would have cost the Democratic Party between $300,000 and $400,000 in filing fees each year. However, in the same session, with Act 901, the legislature removed one of the major obstacles to the adoption of nonpartisan elections by authorizing state funding for primary elections and thereby obviating the need to assess filing fees in order to fund party primaries. Filing fees paid by judicial candidates, and candidates for appellate judgeships in particular, were among the highest assessed by the state Democratic Party.

A bill (SB-661) calling for nonpartisan judicial elections passed the senate but was never voted out of the house judiciary committee. It encountered opposition from house Democrats who argued that nonpartisan elections would reduce the cash that political parties obtain from judicial campaigns.