LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin has thwarted the rule of the people by refusing to certify for the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casino gambling in seven Arkansas counties, the proposal’s sponsor said in a court filing Tuesday.
Martin said he followed state law in rejecting the measure.
Tuesday was the deadline for the parties to submit briefs to the state Supreme Court in Texas businessman Michael Wasserman’s lawsuit challenging Martin’s rejection of his proposal. The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Sept. 6.
Martin ruled last month that Wasserman had failed to submit a number of signatures of registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election from each of at least 15 counties. Wasserman claims in his lawsuit that he should be given more time to collect signatures.
"What the Secretary of State has done that has precipitated this action is to thwart the rule of the people," Wasserman said in his filing Tuesday. "He has interposed himself and his office between the petitioner and the petitioner’s right to have the decision concerning the matters concerned in the petition made by the people of Arkansas."
Wasserman noted that Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution states in part, "If the secretary of state … shall decide any petition to be insufficient, he shall without delay notify the sponsors of such petition, and permit at least 30 days from the date of such notification, in the instance of a statewide petition … for correction or amendment …"
Wasserman also cited Arkansas Code 7-9-111, which states in part that if a petition is found insufficient, the sponsors have 30 days to take actions that can include collecting more signatures, submitting proof to show that the submitted signatures are valid and making the petition more definite and certain.
In a filing Tuesday by his office, Martin argued that Wasserman’s organization, Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment Inc., is not a registered Arkansas voter and therefore lacks standing to challenge Martin’s ruling.
Martin also argued that at the time a petition is filed, it must contain the number of signatures required to get on the ballot — 78,133 for Wasserman’s proposal — and the required percentage from 15 counties. A sponsor can have 30 days to correct deficiencies if signatures are later invalidated, but if a petition is invalid on its face then the 30-day extension does not apply, he argued.
"Neither the constitutional provision nor the statutory authority for a 30-day extension changes the requirement that the petition must be facially valid when submitted," Martin argued in the filing.
The Arkansas Racing Alliance, a ballot committee backed by Oaklawn Park thoroughbred track in Hot Springs, has intervened in the case in support of the secretary of state. Oaklawn and Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis each operate casino-style electronic games of skill.
Meanwhile, Wednesday is the deadline for Nancy Todd’s Poker Palace and Entertainment Venues LLC to submit additional signatures in support of a separate proposed constitutional amendment that would allow casino-style gambling in four counties.