Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips
APPROVES LOCAL OPTION VOTE: Judge Grisham Phillips.
after a hearing today in Saline County said 720 uncounted signatures for a local option alcohol sales proposal
should have been considered and were sufficient to qualify the measure for the county ballot. My word comes from a representative of the petition campaign in the courtroom today.
The judge said the votes in the election will be counted.
Phillips had earlier ordered that votes not be counted because — after a lawsuit challenge was filed — he found the measure fell 83 short of the more than 25,000 signatures needed. But Phillips did not allow inclusion of 720 signatures found "facially valid" after the clerk made an initial certification and stopped counting. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Friday in a 4-3 decision
that those 720 signatures should be considered as well.
Supporters of the election — backed primarily by Walmart
— presented evidence about validity of the uncounted signatures when the hearing got underway.
Phillips had originally left the measure on the ballot so that votes could be cast, but enjoined a count. The Supreme Court dissolved that ruling in sending the case back to Phillips today.
Elizabeth Robben Murray, attorney for the liquor stores financing the effort to block the election, attempted to mount a challenge to the 720 signatures, but the judge overruled her.
He ruled from the bench that the 720 signatures likely contained the 83 necessary to put the measure over the top.
Today's hearing might not be the end of the story. If the measure passes, the opponents could appeal the decision to clear the path to a vote.
On the other hand, should a constitutional amendment pass to legalize alcohol sales in all 75 counties, the Saline County issue will be moot.
Here's the judge's ruling.
It says, based on the clerk's finding of facial validity, it would be unlikely that 638 of the 720 would be invalid and thus leave the initiative still short of signatures. He concluded the backers had met the requirement of signatures from 38 percent of registered voters and upheld the clerk's initial certification. The clerk shall "tablulate, count or otherwise certify the votes cast on this issue," the judge's order read.