The Arkansas Supreme Court today accepted appeals of secretary of state decisions disqualifying two ballot petitions for constitutional amendments and appointed a special master to review the case.

The Arkansas First and Open Primaries Arkansas committees are appealing Republican Secretary of State John Thurston’s finding that both committees didn’t submit a facially sufficient number of the more than 89,000 signatures required to place an amendment on the ballot. The committees are backing, respectively, a nonpartisan legislative redistricting commission and a change in the way primary elections are conducted to open primaries for all parties.

Thurston disallowed tens of thousands of signatures on the ground they hadn’t met strict requirements for paid petition canvassers, which both campaigns used. He particularly focused on whether they had legally attested to criminal background checks for canvassers. The committees have said the secretary of state misinterpreted the law and that their canvassers DID have completed background checks before gathering signatures. The “cure period” is provisional depending on a ruling of whether the committees had met the facial standards.

The petitioners sought an expedited hearing and a preliminary injunction that would allow them to continue to gather signatures. A group formed by Republicans asked to intervene to fight the appeal. The Republican Party wants no change in the districting process that they now control or an end to party primaries, in fear it might improve election chances for non-Republicans.

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The court granted injunctive relief. It said the secretary of state should continue facial review of signatures submitted CLARIFICATION on the redistricting amendment and gave it 30 days from today to continue to gather signatures.

It allowed the Republican committee to intervene and appointed retired Circuit Judge John Fogleman as a special master to resolve factual disputes. The master is to rule by Aug. 3 and the briefing is to be completed by Aug. 10.

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The court order was an unsigned per curiam decision. Justice Rhonda Wood did not participate in the decision on intervention by the Republican group.