Secure Arkansas apparently will not qualify its constitutional amendment for the 2010 ballot. The amendment aimed to prohibit public benefits for undocumented immigrants, though Arkansas officials have said few, if any, are being provided. The measure is viewed as an attempt to discourage immigrant settlement in Arkansas.
An accounting firm hired by the secretary of state completed today counting the raw number of signatures the group had submitted on petitions by last Friday's deadline. The office said the number fell some 10,000 short of the 77,468 required. That means the petition drive fails for this year. We're seeking comment now. It seems unlikely that the matter will drop without at least a cry of protest of some sort.
The interesting wrinkle is that, had enough raw signatures been submitted, then the validation of signatures would have begun. If the number had fallen short, the group would have been given an additional 30 days to "cure" the petitions with more signatures. But having fallen short on the raw count to begin with, no such luck. A specified total must be submitted by the deadline, valid or invalid.
The secretary of state said only 67,542 signatures were submitted. No explanation was given for the gap in what was reported last Friday, the deadline day. Secure Arkansas had claimed in an affidavit that it had collected more than 78,000 signatures.
Sandra McGrew of the secretary of state's office said the petitions had been accepted initially on the affidavit from Secure Arkansas. A rough check — based on the number of signatures per page and the number of pages of petitions submitted — led the secretary of state to accept the filing. But the counting of signatures completed today fell way short. McGrew had no immediate explanation. Did Secure Arkansas miscount its signatures that badly? Did it inadvertently photocopy and submit the same page more than once? Did they simply misstate the number? It's all speculation at this point. Remember,, again, this was not a validation process. The counting team gave no consideration to whether signatures came from registered Arkansas voters distributed across the state as rules require or were invalid for other reasons.
We haven't been able to reach Secure Arkansas. They aren't likely to be happy. But they've already said that the final days were chaotic as a relatively small group of people pushed hard to make the deadline with a final assist from the right-wing religious group, the Family Council. The Family Council, which pushed the petitions into friendly churches, hoped to build a future political ally with its petition help for Secure Arkansas.
UPDATE: McGrew, of the secretary of state, says the accountants tallied every single signature on the petitions. So forget inadvertent duplications. Somebody just can't count too good if they came up with 78,000. Or else the black helicopters swooped in and made off with a bunch of the petitions.
UPDATE II: The normally voluble Jeannie Burlsworth, leader of Secure Arkansas, wouldn't say much to Stephens Media, awaiting counsel from a lawyer. Not much to say if they have no plausible excuse for a shortage of signatures. You don't meet the number by deadline, you don't get on the ballot or qualify for a further bite at the apple. I wonder, just thinking out loud: Do the statutes provide a penalty for a petition gatherer who misrepresents a signature tally to the secretary of state?
SECRETARY OF STATE NEWS RELEASE
Little Rock, AR)- The Secretary of State’s office determined today that Secure Arkansas, the sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent persons unlawfully present in the United States from receiving certain public benefits, did not provide the requisite number of signatures to put their measure on the November 2, 2010 general election ballot.
Sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments must circulate petitions and gather 77,468 valid signatures, ten percent of the total number of votes cast for Governor in 2006, in order to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot. At the conclusion of the official signature count today, an accounting firm hired by the Secretary of State to process the petition found only 67,542 signatures. When sponsors of proposed initiatives fail to submit the legally required number of signatures by the prescribed deadline, the measure is disqualified from further review.
Amendment 7 of the Arkansas Constitution prescribes the process by which voters may propose ballot initiatives. The deadline for submitting proposed constitutional amendments and initiated acts was July 2, 2010.
For more information about the Secretary of State’s office and the initiative and referendum requirements, please visit http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/elections.html