LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a proposed initiated act that would raise the state minimum wage gradually from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017.

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a proposed initiated act that would raise the state minimum wage gradually from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017.


The ruling means that votes cast for the measure in the Nov. 4 election will be counted. Early voting for the election began last week.


In a unanimous opinion, the court denied a petition by Little Rock businessman Jack T. Stephens that challenged the ballot question. Stephens alleged that Secretary of State Mark Martin should not have granted supporters of the measure a 30-day period to collect additional signatures and that the original submission of signatures was late.


The measure’s sponsor, Give Arkansas a Raise Now, needed to collect 62,507 signatures of registered Arkansas voters to place the measure on the ballot. On July 7, they submitted 64,113 signatures, and Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office said they had qualified for a 30-day period of additional signature gathering, in case some signatures in the initial submission were invalidated


Martin’s office did invalidate some signatures, and on July 23 his office said the group was 15,107 short of the required 62,507. But supporters collected enough additional signatures during the "cure period" to exceed the required amount, and Martin certified the measure for the ballot.


Stephens argued that the notary’s signature on some petitions submitted to Martin’s office were forged and that if the signatures on those petitions were discounted, the supporters would not have qualified for a cure period.


On Oct. 10, John Robbins, a former state Court of Appeals judge appointed to serve as special master in the case, concluded that 8,501 signatures were invalid because of the forged notary’s signature — but said Martin did not err in granting a cure period.


In its opinion Monday, the Supreme Court agreed.


"While Stephens would have this court hold that fraud is an appropriate consideration for purposes of the initial-count determination, it simply is not," Justice Paul Danielson wrote in the opinion. "The initial count is just that — an initial count of the signatures submitted at the time of filing and prior to any signature verification."


Stephens also argued that the supporters should have made their initial submission of signatures no later than July 4, or four months before the Nov. 4 election, but instead they made the submission on July 7.


The Supreme Court said Monday it has already held, in its Oct. 16 ruling rejecting a similar challenge to a ballot question on statewide alcohol sales, that it is proper to move election deadlines forward to the next business day when they fall on a holiday or weekend.


David Couch, attorney for Give Arkansas a Raise Now, said Monday, "I’m very happy that the Supreme Court decided to respect the signatures of the people who signed the petition and not necessarily the notary that didn’t do his job."


Couch said the ruling was "the right ruling." He said the question at issue was whether the petitions submitted on July 7 were valid on their face, not whether they would withstand the higher level of scrutiny that is applied later, before a measure is certified for the ballot.


"What’s facially valid is always different than what you count on the back end," he said.


Steve Copley, chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, said he was "excited" that voters would have an opportunity to "vote to give hard-working Arkansans a raise in pay." He said he expects the measure to pass.


David Sterling, attorney for Stephens, said Monday, "We’re extremely disappointed in the decision from the court today. The court has now said that fraud is not an appropriate consideration in the ballot initiative process, and we will live with that decision."


Stephens said in a statement, "It is shameful that, according to our Supreme Court, fraud is not a consideration in this matter of public trust, and now the whole ballot initiative process is open to fraud. It is even more shocking that there wasn’t a single dissent, indicating that all seven justices embraced this decision and its long-term implications on future generations."


He added that "a judicial-recall provision as an initiated act is the most appropriate response to this and other shocking judicial decisions Arkansans have been subjected to this year."