Secretary of State John Thurston has refused to give extended time for signature gathering to a third proposed constitutional amendment — to expand casino gambling — for alleged flaws in complying with state rules for paid canvassers.
Thurston’s letter to Arkansas Wins 2020, which would allow 16 more casinos in Arkansas, said he’d decided that the petitions submitted were short of the 89,000 needed “facially” to qualify for 30 days to gather more signatures should some be disallowed in the review of whether they were legally gathered and signatures of registered voters.
He disallowed almost 35,000 signatures finding that canvassers hadn’t properly registered with his office and hadn’t completed criminal background checks before gathering signatures. These findings mirrored those by which Thurston rejected two other petitions submitted for amendments — one to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission and the other to change elections for state officials to a single open primary for candidates of all parties with a runoff, if required, among the top four to be decided by ranked-choice voting.
A spokesman for the casino campaign said its canvassers HAD completed background checks before gathering signatures and the group will challenge this finding as part of an already pending appeal of Thurston’s initial decision not to accept the petitions. He later reviewed them and made the determination they fell short of a facially sufficient number of signatures. Typically, qualifications of canvassers have been a matter reviewed after counting and checking begins.
UPDATE: From the ballot committee:
Arkansas Wins in 2020, a ballot committee formed to support a constitutional amendment that would expand casino gaming in Arkansas, released the following statement regarding a Petition for Review filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court:
“Arkansas Wins in 2020 Inc. filed a petition for review today with the Arkansas Supreme Court. We have attempted numerous times to work with the Secretary of State’s office on rectifying their concerns which we believe are invalid. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s office has made it clear in their correspondence that they are attempting to let the clock run out on getting the nearly 100,000 signatures of voters certified. It is disheartening that the will of these voters is being blatantly diminished by an office that is supposed to advocate for voting Arkansans.
The Petition for Review will provide clear supporting evidence that all paid canvassers for Arkansas Wins in 2020 passed a background check, performed by the Arkansas State Police prior to collecting signatures, as required by law. We look forward to putting this matter behind us so we can continue our campaign to increase tax revenue, jobs, and tourism through expanding casino gaming in Arkansas,” said Taylor Riddle, spokesman for Arkansas Wins in 2020 Inc.