Waiting game for Randolph County wet petition

POCAHONTAS, Ark. – We will know Friday if Randolph County voters get to decide on the wet/dry issue in November.

Following a nearly chaotic two weeks of rejected petition signatures, hundreds of those rejected being re-added for being erroneously rejected, and hundreds more new signatures being added, Keep Revenue in Randolph County chair Linda Bowlin is now waiting anxiously to hear from Randolph County Clerk Rhonda Blevins on Friday.

“We did our resubmission at 430 p.m. Sunday, which was our tenth day – a 10 day deadline from the original rejections,” Bowlin said. “We have asked the clerk to reconsider every single rejected name based on what was revealed at the public meeting.”

At a gathering at the old Randolph County courthouse Wednesday with dozens of angry voters, Blevins told the group she had been given legal advice to, amongst for other reasons, reject petition signatures when three fields of information were not present.

However, according to emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by NEA Report, Blevins was specifically told by the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, in June, the best practice was to check two fields before looking at the signature – not three.

“As a best practice, we verify two pieces of information before we validate a signature,” Josh Bridges, with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, wrote on June 16 to the clerk’s email account. “That could be a name and DOB, or a name and address, or any other combination. You can use that as a best practice as well, but there’s nothing in the code that says you have to.”

While the email does seem to indicate to Blevins’ office signature verification was part of the process, the email concludes with the note that there is nothing in the code saying Blevins must do this.

This may have been the source of some of the confusion.

“We are not handwriting experts – we know that,” Blevins told the group Wednesday. “That’s why this email that said ‘validate the signatures,’ kind of threw us but we were trying to follow the letters of the law and what we were advised to do.”

Of the emails provided to NEA Report under the FOIA request, this was the only correspondence including any type of advice. One other email, from the Association of Arkansas Counties, included reference to ACA 3-8-801 thru 3-8-811, but no advice or interpretation of the statute was included in the email.

Blevins (left) and Bowlin on Wed.

Going into last Wednesday, with over 900 registered voters’ signatures having been thrown out, the group was in a deficit of the needed names by about 500 signatures. Following the public meeting between Blevins, Bowlin and members of the community, almost 300 signatures were added back as having been erroneously removed.

The group still needed 230 or so to get onto the ballot for November, so from Thursday until DSCN2786 Saturday, the group managed to collect and submit 200 more signatures. This number is short of the latest deficit of signatures, created by Blevins rejections, but Bowlin is asking Blevins to use good judgment and consider the will of the people when making judgment calls.

“We have also asked her to reconsider names appearing on pages with out of county voters, based on good judgment and based on the McDaniel v Spencer case, declaring a very similar statute in the statewide petitioning laws unconstitutional,” Bowlin said. “We’ve asked her to reconsider using her common sense.”

Much of the law remains unspecific and, based on emails from the Secretary of State’s office, often ends up being the responsibility of the county clerk to interpret.

“We want everyone to have equal opportunity to vote,” Blevins told the crowd last Wednesday.

The community will learn if they get that opportunity Friday.

“If we are rejected again, we will make a decision then as to whether or not we will be able to challenge some of her work in court but we’re very hopeful she will reconsider and support the will of well over 4,000 Randolph County voters – a large number of whom have been rejected, even though they signed and are identified,” Bowlin said.

FOIA-Petitions-August-5-2016 – FOIA’d documents

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