A petition to remove a measure legalizing alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties from the November ballot was unanimously denied Thursday by the State Supreme Court.
Associate Justice Karen Baker wrote the opinion denying a challenge by Citizens for Local Rights, a ballot question committee largely funded by county line liquor stores across the state. The group's petitioners, Brian Richardson and Mary Dillard, challenged Secretary of State Mark Martin's office. Linda Bowlin and J. Ross Jones of the group Let Arkansas Decide, who led the effort to place the issue on the ballot, were named as intervenors.
Citizens for Local Rights claimed that signatures to place the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment on the ballot were submitted to the Secretary of State less than four months in advance of the election, which would violate state law. They also claimed that the ballot title did not adequately explain to voters the scope and extent of the proposal.
The ballot title calls for the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of Intoxicating Liquors in every geographic area of the state.” Baker wrote that this and other language in the ballot title informs voters in an “intelligible, honest and impartial manner.”
“Here, the ballot title clearly instructs the voter on the location where the alcohol can be sold: each and every county of the state of Arkansas,” wrote Baker.
The petitioners also raised issue with the proposed amendment's supremacy over the state's many local liquor laws, such as laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol near churches and schools.
Baker wrote: “We need not address this argument because it does not address the sufficiency of the title of the ballot before us; rather , it is directed at the implementation.”
The ballot title states that the Arkansas Legislature would have the authority to “regulate, but not prohibit” use and sale of alcohol.
Baker also wrote that because the deadline to submit signatures fell on a state and federal holiday (July 4th), the Secretary of State's office was right in accepting the signatures the following business day (July 7th).
In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Paul Danielson wrote that his agreement in denying the petition by Citizens for Local Rights was based solely on the legality of accepting the petitions on July 7th.
The “Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment” will appear on the November 4th midterm election ballot.
Correction: A previous version of this article described Citizens for Local Rights as a "ballot issue committee." It is actually a ballot question committee, defined by the Arkansas Ethics Commission as "any person, located within or outside the state of Arkansas who receives contributions...[or] makes expenditures for the purpose of expressly advocating the qualification, disqualification, passage or defeat of any ballot question."