LITTLE ROCK — Supporters of proposals to expand alcohol sales in Arkansas and gradually raise the state’s minimum wage were given another month Friday to circulate petitions after being told by election officials they fell short of the signatures needed to win a spot on the November ballot.
Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office told the Let Arkansas Decide campaign, which is trying to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that it fell 17,133 signatures from registered voters shy of the 78,133 needed to qualify. The group has until Aug. 18 to submit its petitions. The group had submitted 85,147 signatures.
Martin’s office later Friday said that another ballot measure to gradually raise Arkansas’ minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017 had also fallen short and would also be given until Aug. 18 to circulate petitions. The proposed initiated act needed at least 62,507 signatures from registered voters to qualify. Martin’s office said more than 3,000 of the 64,135 submitted by Give Arkansas A Raise Now had been disqualified. A spokeswoman said officials would have a final tally on Monday of how many votes submitted by the group were valid.
The proposed alcohol amendment would repeal laws requiring counties to hold an election to determine whether to allow such sales. Currently, 38 of Arkansas’ 75 counties prohibit alcohol sales. The proposal is aiming for a spot on the ballot as efforts are underway in three Arkansas counties to allow votes on legalizing alcohol sales.
David Couch, chairman of the statewide campaign, said he had expected to need additional signatures and was confident the group would be able to turn in enough verified signatures by the new deadline. Couch said his group has collected 20,000 signatures since submitting its petitions on July 7. About 100 paid canvassers are gathering signatures around the state, Couch said.
"We’re going to continue to collect for a couple more weeks because we want to have an amount of signatures greatly in excess in of the minimum so we can ward off any challenges," Couch said. "I want to be so far above it that no one will bother contesting it."
Steve Copley, the chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, said his group planned to begin gathering more signatures quickly. The proposed minimum wage increase has been embraced by the state’s top Democratic candidates, who had hoped to use it as an issue in the general election.
"We are going to cure it, and we feel very confident this is going to be on the ballot in November and that hardworking Arkansans are going to get a raise," Copley said. "We’re already making preparations to go out and get more signatures."
Both the alcohol and wage measures had cleared an initial signature count, which qualified them for the additional 30 days.