Secretary of state’s office defends July 7 as filing deadline for petitions

LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office on Tuesday defended its decision to set July 7 as the deadline to submit petitions in support of ballot initiatives.

The group Let Local Communities Decide for Themselves asked Martin on Monday not to certify a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by the group Let Arkansas Decide that would allow statewide alcohol sales. The group opposing the proposal claims that signatures in support of it were submitted too late.

Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution requires petitions for ballot initiatives to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office at least four months before the upcoming election, which in this case will be Nov. 4, but supporters of the alcohol measure submitted their signatures on July 7, the opposing group said.

Martin’s office said Tuesday it set July 7 as the deadline because it was the first business day after July 4, which was a holiday.

“If the deadline falls on a holiday we roll it to the following business day. This has been the Secretary of State(’s) standard practice since Amendment 7 went into effect in 1925. We will review the law and do legal research to determine the validity of this issue,” Martin’s office said in a statement.

David Couch, a Little Rock lawyer and chairman of Let Arkansas Decide, said state law is clear on the issue of election deadlines that fall on holidays. He pointed to Arkansas Code Annotated 7-1-108 and Amendment 51 to the Arkansas Constitution, both of which state, “If an election law deadline occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the deadline shall be the next day which is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.”

Elizabeth Robben Murray, attorney for Let Local Communities Decide for Themselves, said Amendment 51 deals with voter registration.

“Amendment 51 has nothing to do with initiatives and referendums. Amendment 7 deals with initiative and referendums,” she said.

By Tuesday afternoon, Let Local Communities Decide for Themselves had not registered with the state Ethics Commission. Arkansas law gives a ballot question committee up to five days to register with the state after it raises or spends at least $500.

Asked for the name of a member of the committee who comment, Murray said she did not have one, but she said the Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association is a supporter. She said the committee has advised her that it will register with the Ethics Commission in a timely manner.

Couch said liquor stores oppose the proposed amendment, especially stores located on the lines dividing wet and dry counties.

“It’s the liquor stores concerned about competition. That’s all it is,” he said.

Let Arkansas Decide fell short of the 78,133 signatures of registered Arkansas voters it needed to secure a spot on the ballot, but Martin’s office said Friday the group had qualified for an additional 30 days to collect more signatures. Couch said Tuesday the group has already collected enough new signatures to make up for the invalidated ones.

Give Arkansas a Raise, a group seeking to place on the ballot a proposed initiated act to raise the state minimum wage, also submitted petitions to Martin’s office on July 7 and also has been given 30 days to make up for invalidated signatures.