The Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday (July 31) approved a request by Arkansas Wins requiring Secretary of State John Thurston to verify signatures as part of the group’s effort to place an expanded casino license amendment on the November general election ballot.
Friday’s ruling also granted “provisional certification of the initiative pending review of the merits of the certification by the court.” The court also granted Protect Arkansas Communities, a group formed to opposed Arkansas Wins, the right to intervene in the case. (Link here to view the ruling.)
Thurston on July 14 said paid canvassers on three separate initiatives did not pass background checks. The three issues include Arkansas Voters First – which supports a new system for redrawing Congressional and legislative districts and another proposal for open primaries and rank voting – and Arkansas Wins, which is seeking to expand casinos in the state by adding 16 new gaming licenses. The groups are hoping to get their initiatives on the November general election ballot.
In letters to all three groups, Thurston said the groups’ paid canvassers did not meet a requirement of having “passed” criminal background checks. When supporters turned in petitions, they informed Thurston they had “acquired” background checks. Background checks are required of petition gatherers under Arkansas state law.
Taylor Riddle, a spokesperson for Arkansas Wins, said his group disagrees with the Secretary of State’s decision.
“Almost 100,000 voters signed the Arkansas Wins in 2020 petition with the belief that their signature would count. We believe that the Secretary of State’s opinion is not in accordance with Arkansas law and has jeopardized the civil rights of these Arkansas voters. Arkansas Wins in 2020 will be filing a Petition for Review with the Arkansas Supreme Court to address what we believe is an erroneous declaration of insufficiency,” Riddle said.
Friday’s court opinion now gives Arkansas Wins the opportunity to challenge Thurston’s ruling.
“Respondent (Thurston) is directed to continue facial review of the petition and to begin verifying signatures on the initiative petition. Petitioner is granted a thirty-day cure period to commence on the date of this order. This cure period is provisional, and counting the signatures collected during the cure period depends on whether the petitioner is ultimately determined to be entitled to a cure period,” noted the court’s majority opinion.
The ruling also appointed Judge Kathleen Bell, a circuit court judge in Arkansas First Judicial District, as a special master in the case, with a report filed by the judge no later than Aug. 17. Following the judge’s report, Arkansas Wins will have until Aug. 24 to respond, and Thurston’s office and Protect Arkansas Communities will have until Aug. 31 to respond. A reply brief from Arkansas Wins must then be filed by Sept. 4.