LITTLE ROCK — A Northeast Arkansas prosecutor said Thursday he has asked law enforcement authorities to investigate possibly fraudulent signatures that were submitted in support of two ballot issues.
Second Judicial District Prosecutor Scott Ellington of Jonesboro said he has asked the sheriffs of Craighead and Crittenden counties to investigate whether criminal violations occurred in the gathering of signatures in those counties for a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casino-style gambling in four Arkansas counties.
Ellington also said he has asked the Arkansas State Police to conduct a similar investigation into the gathering of signatures in Mississippi County for a proposed initiated act that would raise the state’s severance tax on natural gas from 5 percent to 7 percent and eliminate exemptions to the tax.
Some residents of all three counties have denied signing the petitions for the respective ballot items despite the presence of their names on the petitions, Ellington said.
The secretary of state’s office found that nearly 70 percent of the petitions submitted for the casino amendment proposed by Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace & Entertainment Venues LLC and the severance tax initiative proposed by former gas company executive Sheffield Nelson were bogus. Both have been given time to collect additional signatures, though Nelson has suspended his effort.
Ellington called the number of invalid signatures "extreme."
"I am engaging local law enforcement agencies to investigate these allegations and to report their findings to me. If these allegations are true, the responsible person(s) will be held accountable," he said in a news release.
Ellington, a Democrat, is running against Republican incumbent Rick Crawford of Jonesboro for Arkansas’ 1st District congressional seat.
State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed Thursday that the agency is investigating the signatures submitted for Nelson’s proposal. The investigation is limited to Mississippi County, which is in the Second Judicial District, because the evidence provided by Ellington’s office is from that county, Sadler said.
Todd and Nelson have said they welcome investigations.
Secretary of State Mark Martin said through spokespeople last month that he was considering asking state police for investigations of the bogus signatures. Martin spokesman Alex Reed said Thursday that Martin had not joined Ellington in requesting the investigations but would comply with investigators.
Stop Casinos Now!, a ballot committee that opposes Todd’s proposed amendment, applauded Ellington’s announcement Thursday.
"We hope this investigation brings to light actions by Nancy Todd to collect an ‘extreme’ number of questionable signatures," the group’s chairman, Chuck Lange, said in a news release.
Lange also said the group was conducting its own investigation.