In response to the effort by the Republican-controlled state legislature to enact laws that targeted marginalized groups, several dozen Arkansans launched the first veto referendum movement in the state in decades.
Problems and Purpose
The dozens of laws enacted by the Arkansas General Assembly violated the state constitutional principle that all laws by the legislature must protect, secure and benefit ALL Arkansans . Three of these laws that created a particularly unsafe environment for some citizens by restricting voting rights , banning healthcare for transgendered youth , and establishing “Stand Your Ground” . A hodgepodge collective of activists calling itself “Arkansans For a Unified Natural State (AFUNS),” invoked a little-known state constitutional provision  that empowers citizens to overturn any statute, regulation, or ordinance  and started a statewide veto referendum movement  that eventually involved nearly one hundred volunteers in more than three dozen counties .
Background History and Context
Led by Kwami Abdul-Bey, a well-known community activist with more than three decades of activism in central Arkansas under his belt, beginning with his membership on the Little Rock Task Force for the Prevention of Youth Violence in the early 1990s, AFUNS was actually born as the Arkansas Election Defense Ad-Hoc Task Force (AEDAHTF) during the 2020 election cycle. AEDAHTF was an unique coalition of two dozen organizations, including the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, the Urban League of the State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement, and others, that joined forces to ensure that Arkansas voters maintained access to the ballot box during the pandemic .
After a very successful Election Day campaign where they provided “Souls to the Polls” type services with free food, water, and music, AEDAHTF disbanded. But, as the legislative session begin to wind down for an extended adjournment to await U.S. Census data for redistricting purposes, Abdul-Bey contact each of the partners and suggested that they regroup and focus on developing a proactive participatory policy-making approach to address some of the new laws. And, it was during their first gathering that they adopted AFUNS. Soon thereafter, several other organizations and individuals joined the movement.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
AFUNS is a completely volunteer effort that formal has no funding at all, except for the costs that the volunteers themselves incur by printing and mailing their own copies of the veto referenda. The AFUNS veto referenda movement was consistently supported by the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement, the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, and the Young Democrats of Arkansas, with occasional assistance from several other organizations. The main organizing of AFUNS efforts initially came from the executive committee of the Young Democrats of Arkansas by galvanizing its statewide membership of college students to participate.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The AFUNS veto referenda movement began mainly as a word-of-mouth initiative that quickly spread throughout all corners and regions of Arkansas. Within two months of its initial start, several local, state, and national news outlets reported on the movement. And, this multi-pronged publicity served as its best convinced recruitment campaign, as the general public was given an open invitation to participate. To date, there are almost forty different organizations, and countless individuals (the AFUNS e-mail list has well over hundred and fifty people that receive bi-weekly messages) that actively work under the AFUNS umbrella to keep the idea of meaningful and effective participatory governance alive in Arkansas.
Methods and Tools Used
In addition to word-of-mouth, the main tools that AFUNS uses are the donated usage of the Zoom account and Google Drive, Google Voice, and Gmail accounts of the Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement. As well as the donated usage of the commercial copier machine of the NAACP Little Rock branch.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
AFUNS participants met bi-weekly on Sunday evenings for one hour via Zoom to encourage and dialogue with each other. Since that was no true central authority, there was no real gauge to tell what anyone was doing outside of self-reporting that happened during those Zoom meetings. For the last year, the bi-weekly meetings have averaged around 15-18 participants each time.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
AFUNS did not successfully collect the current minimum required number of 54,000 signatures, from at least 15 different counties, during the allotted 90-day period that the Arkansas constitution requires. One of the main reasons for this is that AFUNS did not actually form until after the first quarter of that period had already transpired and it took them a couple of weeks to get the operation up and running. They did collect nearly 20,000 signatures from over 25 different counties during their original approximately 40-day long operation.
The most important outcome is that the government and the other powers-that-be took notice of this citizens movement. Even to the point that Kwami Abdul-Bey was famously targeted with what proved to be a frivolous election ethics complaint filed by Arkansas Family Council president Jerry Cox who supported the bills that AFUNS targeted . Also, this veto referendum movement indirectly led to a revitalization of several county level Democratic Party of Arkansas organizations that had not really been functional.
As of this writing, AFUNS is still operational. They are currently collecting signatures for two veto referenda that target the congressional maps that the Arkansas legislature enacted during the 2021 redistricting process. The 90-day period for those veto referenda ends on January 13, 2022.
Finally, several AFUNS participants are now regular guest columnists in both the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Arkansas Times newspapers .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Even though this process does not appear to have yet produced any tangible, direct policy impact, the participatory governance aspect of the process seemed quite successful, due to factors such as effective facilitation, constructive norms for discussion, and giving participants substantial influence over the outcomes of the process (notwithstanding the state government’s choice to disregard those outcomes).
 Ark. Const. art. 2, §1 (Authority of government).
 Act 736 of 2021 (HB1715).
 Act 626 of 2021 (HB1570).
 Act 250 of 2021 (SB24).
 Jackson, A. J. (2021, February 1). Advocates, community allies stand together to stop proposed Arkansas 'stand your ground' bill. THV11. https://www.thv11.com/article/news/black-community-leaders-groups-and-allies-stand-together-to-stop-stand-your-ground-bill/91-c3ddf2e1-011a-47ca-b616-f8a84dc335f9.
 Ark. Const. art. 5, §1 (Initiative and referendum).
 Office of the Secretary of State, Veto Referenda filed on May 21, 2021.
 Higgins, K. (2021, May). Group Seeks Multiple Referendums. News & Notes: Arkansas Ballot Issues. https://www.uaex.uada.edu/business-communities/voter-education/newsletter-and-voter-guide-archive/docs/2021/PPC-News-May-121-2021.pdf.
 Magnolia Reporter. (2021, August). Unified Natural State Promises Petition Campaign for 10 new laws. Daily Advent. https://www.dailyadvent.com/news/ bae2db0aefb5decb899f6bdc18b52723-Unified-Natural-State-promises- petition- campaign-for-10-new-laws.
 Exelby, G. (2021, July 10). Referendum petitions being circulated in county. Paragould Daily News. https://www.paragoulddailypress.com/news/referendum-petitions-being-circulated-in-county/article_11b88fff-2735-5de8-98ab-dea6b87952b6.html.
 Mackay, A. M. (2020, November 2). Over 20 Arkansas nonprofits unite to make sure voters have smooth polling experience. THV11. https://www.thv11.com/article/news/nonprofits-and-community-groups-join-forces-to-bring-joytothepolls/91-c18ffc01-fd04-4015-a9d4-71f4c170b044.
 Arkansas Ethics Commission, Case #2021-CO-008.
 Seals, K., & Evans, L. (2021, January 14). Opinion: Ledge in session. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jan/14/ledge-in-session/.
 Curry, D., Evans, L., & Moorehead, E. (2021, February 18). Opinion: In opposition. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/feb/18/in-opposition/.
 Abdul-Bey, K., & Evans, L. (2021, September 29). Opinion: Have your say. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/sep/29/have-your-say/.
 Seals, K., & Stuart, K. (2021, October 11). Opinion: Invest in Arkansas. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/oct/11/invest-in-arkansas/.
The first version of this case entry was written by Kwami Abdul-Bey, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.