LITTLE ROCK — A divided Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a Saline County circuit judge’s ruling that supporters of a ballot proposal to allow alcohol sales in dry Saline County did not submit enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

LITTLE ROCK — A divided Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a Saline County circuit judge’s ruling that supporters of a ballot proposal to allow alcohol sales in dry Saline County did not submit enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.


In a 4-3 decision, the high court sided with supporters of the proposal to turn Saline County from dry to wet. The supporters had appealed a circuit judge’s ruling that rescinded the Saline County clerk’s certification of the measure for the ballot.


The Supreme Court sent the case back to circuit court for new proceedings. A dissenting justice warned that remanding the case to the lower court so close to the election would throw Saline County’s electoral process into "chaos."


After the measure was certified for the ballot, three Saline County residents filed a lawsuit challenging it. Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips ruled that 156 signatures verified by the county clerk in support of the measure were invalid, which left supporters 83 signatures short of the 25,580 needed.


Our Community, Our Dollars, the group sponsoring the measure, argued that the court clerk ended the verification process after verifying 25,653 signatures, or 73 more than the required minimum, leaving 960 signatures that were not initially reviewed. At the direction of Phillips, the county clerk later determined that 720 of those signatures belonged to registered Saline County voters.


If those 720 signatures were included in the count, the minimum number needed for ballot certification would be met, supporters argued.


In its majority ruling Friday, the Supreme Court said the circuit judge should have taken those signatures into account.


In reviewing a challenge to a petition, "a circuit court must consider the entire petition," Justice Courtney Goodson wrote in the opinion. "To hold otherwise would silence the voices of registered voters who properly affix their names to a petition but whose signatures are deemed unnecessary to count by a county clerk. This we will not allow."


The court directed the circuit judge to conduct a new review consistent with its ruling.


In a dissenting opinion, Justice Donald Corbin wrote that the majority was assuming that the 720 signatures were valid even though opponents were never given a chance to challenge them and the circuit judge never ruled on their validity.


Corbin also said the case is moot. Although the measure will appear on Saline County ballots, Corbin said he did not believe there would be time to resolve the question of whether votes cast for it should be counted before the deadline for certifying election results.


"I simply cannot ignore the fact that there is no reasonable scenario under which timely relief can be granted and, as a result, the majority opinion is going to throw the electoral process in Saline County into chaos," Corbin wrote for the minority.


Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson joined in the dissent.


Marshall Ney, attorney for Our Community, Our Dollars, said in a statement Friday, "We are extremely pleased to hear this ruling. This means the approximately 26,000 residents in Saline County who signed the petition in hopes this issue will be on the ballot will have their opportunity to vote come Nov. 4."


Elizabeth Murray, attorney for the Saline County residents who challenged the ballot proposal, said Friday she did not know whether a timely resolution of the case was possible.


"I guess we will wait to hear from Judge Phillips," she said. "Sometimes he will do things by email over the weekend, or a phone call, or I’ll try to talk with him on Monday morning early. That’s all I know to do."