David Couch, attorney for Let Arkansas Decide, which is attempting to put a statewide retail alcohol amendment on the November ballot, has responded to a letter from foes of the amendment attempting to invalidate the petitions.
Elizabeth Murray, a Friday firm lawyer representing retail alcohol dealers who oppose an amendment that would allow sales in all 75 counties, wrote the secretary of state July 21 contending that the petitions were invalid because they were submitted July 7. The state Constitution requires submission of petitions four months before an election (November 4 this year), but because July 4 was a holiday, the secretary of state extended the deadline to the next business day, July 7.
Murray argued that the Constitution allowed no such extension. She’s raised other issues about the petitions as well.
Couch’s letter says that if Murray’s interpretation were to stand the law making July 4 a state holiday would have to be declared unconstitutional. He said the secretary of state had been following the practice of extending the period for deadlines that fall on a holiday since the constitutional provision on petitions, Amendment 7, took effect in 1925.
The secretary of state’s office in 2008 set a July 7 deadline when it should have fallen on July 4, Couch noted. On July 7, the secretary of state certified for the ballot an amendment to prevent adoption and foster parenting by unmarried couples, a measure aimed at preventing gay people from being parents that was sponsored by the Family Council. That measure was submitted by Rob Shafer, also a member of the Friday Law firm. What’s more, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s general counsel, Martha Adcock, was lawyer for the Family Council at that time. They are “respected lawyers,” he said, and surely wouldn’t have done anything improper.
Couch notes, too, that Amendment 51, a subsequent measure on elections, explicitly provided for an extension when a deadline fell on a holiday. He said Amendment 7, which applies to ballot petitions, should be interpreted the same way. To do otherwise would shorten the allowed filing period and abridge citizens’ rights, he said.
He urged Martin to accept the petitions and “let the people of Arkansas decide this issue at the polls.”
The measure would allow retail alcohol sales in all 75 counties, thus overriding those that remain “dry” by local option. This would allow beer and small and native wine sales at grocery stores and would allow applications for retail liquor permits based on population quotas, but wouldn’t change laws that prohibit chain store liquor sales. Retail grocers are known to be among the supporters of the measure.
Opposition has arisen particularly from liquor retailers who operate in counties adjacent to populous dry counties. Saline, Craighead and Faulkner counties were targeted by Walmart-financed local option drives this year, but they failed in Faulkner and Craighead. The Saline drive succeeded, but is under challenge in a lawsuit filed by Murray. An easier signature threshold is necessary to qualify a statewide ballot measure — 10 percent of the vote for governor in the last election for constitutional amendments. Local option elections — on account of a punitive law passed by alcohol sales foes — requires petitions signed by 38 percent of voters to qualify for the ballot.