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Waltons make money count

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Statewide petition drives were notoriously unsuccessful this year.

An ethics reform drive was dropped after a canvassing firm failed to deliver. A casino amendment was rejected for lack of signatures. Petition drives for a gas severance tax, another casino amendment and a medical marijuana law all met initial signature targets, but reviews showed huge percentages of signatures – 50 to 70 percent – were not from registered voters.

Perhaps future petitioners should look to the Walton family. In Benton County, a drive to put a retail alcohol sales ordinance on the county ballot was successful. Tom and Steuert Walton, grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton, paid for most of the drive, with contributions of $180,000 each.

For future reference, most of the money went to National Ballot Access of Lawrenceville, Ga., to hire canvassers to obtain signatures. Needing about 41,000 signatures, the group gathered more than 56,000. But here's the key thing: County Clerk Tena O'Brien, who certified the proposal for the ballot, said about 76 percent of the signatures were those of duly registered voters, a reverse of the experience of some statewide efforts.

Signers in Benton County report that canvassers there were careful and seemed well-informed about the initiative. Fraudulent signatures were a problem on some of the statewide initiatives, along with thousands of invalid signatures. Volunteers were used heavily in some drives, but all the failed efforts also used paid canvassers, sometimes poorly informed about the petitions they carried. Canvassers also found organized opposition campaigns attempting to discourage signers on the severance tax and casino petitions, something that apparently didn't happen in Benton County.

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