The Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday appointed a retired circuit judge as special master to review disputes raised in the Arkansas Wins in 2020 committee's challenge of a state official's ruling that would keep a proposed constitutional amendment allowing more casinos off the Nov. 3 general election ballot. The state's high court also directed Secretary of State John Thurston to continue reviewing the petitions submitted by the committee and to begin verifying signatures of registered voters on the petitions.
The committee's proposed amendment would authorize 16 more casinos in Arkansas. Retired Circuit Judge Kathleen Bell's report to the state Supreme Court is required to be filed by Aug. 17, the high court said Friday, as reported by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The court granted the committee a 30-day "cure" period, which started Friday, to collect more signatures in case they were needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot.
"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," the Supreme Court said. "We grant provisional certification of the initiative [for inclusion on the ballot] pending a review of the merits of the certification by the court."
The high court also decided to allow the Protect Arkansas Communities committee that opposes the proposed amendment to intervene in the case. That committee is financed by the state's three existing casino operators.
Thurston on July 14 said paid canvassers on three separate initiatives did not pass background checks, including Arkansas Wins. 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 the 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, Talk Business & Politics reports. “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.