LITTLE ROCK — Thousands of signatures for proposals to legalize casinos in Arkansas, raise the minimum wage and impose stricter term limits were submitted Friday to election officials in the hopes of putting the measures on the November ballot.
Supporters of the three initiatives turned in boxes of petitions to the secretary of state’s office throughout the day Friday, the deadline to turn in signatures for ballot measures. Proposed constitutional amendments need 84,859 signatures from registered voters to qualify, while initiated acts need 67,887.
The most signatures submitted came from the group behind the term limits amendment, which turned in 135,590 signatures. The measure would limit Arkansas lawmakers to two four-year terms in the Senate and three two-year terms in the House, with a total cap of 10 years in office.
A 2014 measure loosened Arkansas’ term limits and allowed lawmakers to serve a total of 16 years in the House, Senate or a combination of both. Tom Steele, the chairman of Arkansas Term Limits, fought back tears after turning in the group’s petitions. The group was unable to gather enough signatures for its proposal two years ago.
“This has been a long time coming,” Steele said.
The group behind the casino proposal submitted 96,170 signatures, after using a six-figure television ad campaign to promote the initiative. The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize casino gambling at a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track, which already offer electronic games like video poker. The proposal would also legalize casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties.
“The media campaign helped quite a bit,” said Nate Steel, counsel for the Driving Arkansas Forward group backing the casino initiative. “The canvassers were able to spend more time getting signatures and explaining details of the amendment without starting from scratch.”
In addition to the overall number of signatures required, the groups must submit a minimum number from at least 15 counties. The secretary of state’s office has 30 days to review the petitions submitted by the groups, and will use as many as 60 temporary workers to help count the signatures and verify them. The groups can get an additional 30 days to gather signatures if officials find they collected at least 75 percent of the verified signatures needed, as well as 75 percent of the minimum required from the 15 counties.
Supporters of the proposed initiated act to gradually raise Arkansas’ minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour by 2021 submitted 69,413 signatures. David Couch, the sponsor of the measure, said supporters were gathering signatures through Friday for the proposal.
“We’re cutting it close, but we verify everything,” Couch said.