An effort to raise the severance tax to a flat 7% has failed to meet the signature threshold to be placed on the November ballot, but supporters will be given another 30 days to meet the legal requirement.
The Secretary of State's office notified Sheffield Nelson, leader of the Committee for a Fair Severance Tax, that of the 69,774 signatures submitted, only 21,347 were valid registered voters in Arkansas. The number of valid signatures represents 30.5% of those submitted, meaning nearly 70% were rejected.
The requirement to qualify for the ballot is 62,507 and state officials said Nelson would have another 30 days to obtain additional signatures or prove that rejected signatures should be counted as valid.
The Secretary of State's office said Nelson's group had until August 20, 2012 to meet the 30-day extension.
Arkansans for Jobs and
Affordable Energy (AJAE), a group opposed to the severance tax hike said Nelson's group may have committed fraud.
“Given the questionable petition practices Mr. Nelson used, it’s not surprising so many of his signatures had to be thrown out,” said Randy Zook, chairman of AJAE.
“In fact, we recently started our own review of Mr. Nelson’s petitions and detected hundreds of fraudulent signatures ourselves,” said Zook. “For example, we found pages and pages of petitions from Mississippi County that simply list residents in alphabetical order – all in what appears to be the same handwriting,” said Zook.
“AJAE has contacted several of those individuals, who confirm they did not sign the petition. Petition fraud is a serious offense, and we trust the appropriate authorities will conduct a full investigation into the matter,” Zook said.