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Backers Of Arkansas Ballot Proposals Deliver Signatures To The State

Arkansas Secretary of State

Friday was the deadline for groups hoping to put proposals before Arkansas voters in November to deliver signed petitions to the state. 

Three groups, two putting forth constitutional amendments and one an initiated act, hauled in box loads of petitions throughout the day to the Secretary of State's office. Among the petitioners are groups seeking to allow casino gaming, raise the minimum wage, and impose overall term limits on state legislators.

Danielle Fusco, a spokeswoman for Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, said the process of verifying signatures could look confusing to the untrained eye.

"It's a straightforward process. It looks all complicated when we have all the boxes brought in, but it's a very organized, streamlined process, very meticulous," Fusco said. "I don't know if many people understand how long it takes to verify a signature against another signature without going cross-eyed, doing it for eight hours… but we've got it down to a science over here."

Nate Steel is a former Democratic state lawmaker and serves as legal counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward. The group is seeking to build two casinos in Arkansas, as well as expand existing gaming operations at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming in West Memphis.

Steel voiced his confidence that his group, the first to deliver signatures to the state Friday, has enough verifiable signatures to ensure placement on the November ballot.

"Everything went great. We turned in 96,170 signatures that were gathered over the past month-and-a-half or so," Steel said.

His group, as well as the other two, faced an accelerated timeline to gather signatures following Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's rejection of the groups' proposed ballot titles. The Arkansas Supreme Court eventually ordered they be approved. Steel said that compounded onto what’s already an onerous undertaking.

"It is a difficult and arduous and expensive process, there’s no question about it," Steel said. "It's not easy, but we had a great group. I think we topped out around 200 total canvassers statewide." 

Tim Jacob works with Arkansas Term Limits, the group wanting to impose a 10-year overall limit on state legislators. Jacob said he expects to pass the 84,859 signature threshold for proposed constitutional amendments, but expects numerous roadblocks on the way to Election Day.

"We hopefully will have enough signatures. We'll turn them in, and then we'll be sued by the attorneys of the legislature, I’m sure," Jacob said, "and they'll try to keep it off the ballot, because they know if this gets to the ballot, the legislature is going to have to succumb to the will of the people."

Fusco, the spokeswoman with the Secretary of State's office, said she expects the signature verification process to be complete before the 30-day deadline. She said Arkansas Term Limits gave her a figure of 135,590 signatures submitted. For the minimum wage initiative, 69,413 signatures were delivered, Fusco said, which is narrowly above the 67,887 threshold that will be needed.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.
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