Arkansas Wins 2020, a petition-driven initiative to legalize 16 more casinos in Arkansas, says the secretary of state’s office has ruled its petitions insufficient and says it will appeal.

I’m seeking a secretary of state’s opinion, but here’s the release from Arkansas Wins 2020, the committee formed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to legalize casinos owned by corporate entities named in the amendment.

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Arkansas Wins in 2020 was one of two ballot question committees notified by the Arkansas Secretary of State that three petitions submitted were declared insufficient based on allegedly failing to certify that canvassers had passed two separate background checks: both a Federal and a Arkansas background check, which was run by the Arkansas State Police.

We strongly disagree with the Secretary of State’s opinion and believe the information provided was submitted to them in accordance with applicable Arkansas law. 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,” said Taylor Riddle, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2020.

If this is correct, it suggests the secretary of state may also have found insufficient two other petition drives for amendments to establish a non-partisan legislative redistricting commission and to change the primary voting system. I’m seeking comment from organizers of those drives.

UPDATE: My suspicion was correct.

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The news follows a special master’s ruling this week that a petition drive for a referendum on a new law expanding surgical privileges had fallen short because some of the paid canvassers petitions said they required federal and state criminal background checks were only “acquired” rather than “passed”  for paid petition canvassers. All the petition drives relied on paid canvassers, an effort which must meet many requirements of a state law passed at the behest of the business lobby to make popular petition drives difficult to qualify for the ballot.

The business lobby opposes all these amendments. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau are backing a legislatively backed amendment to make popular petitions harder to qualify. Existing casinos have formed a committee to oppose the casino amendment. The Republican Party is working to defeat the redistricting and oper primary proposals. Secretary of State John Thurston, a Republican, is the person who ruled the ballot petitions insufficient.

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UPDATE: David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer, confirms that both the disricting commission and open primary petitions had been ruled insufficient for the same reason. Thurston wouldn’t count petitions submitted by paid canvassers who attested criminal background checks had been “acquired” rather than passed.

The special master’s ruling is already on appeal by backers of the eye surgery referendum and now will be challenged on these three drives.

Here, for example, is the Thurston letter on the redistricting commission proposal:

Redistricting insufficiency letter

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Some might say this is some semantic BS. Others might say the law must be read exactly as it’s written. The Arkansas Supreme Court will have the last word. It has become increasingly captive of the business lobby and the Republican Party.