CLINTON — The group “Let Van Buren County Vote!” turned in its petitions Monday July 27 at the county clerk’s office. If the petitions are approved by County Clerk Pam Bradford, Van Buren County voters will have an opportunity for a vote in the general election for the county to become “wet” by permitting alcohol sales.
Group representative David Byard, of Fairfield Bay, said 4,291 signatures were turned in, in excess of the 3,852 required to put the wet vote on the ballot. Bradford has 10 days to certify the signatures, after which an additional 10 days are available for an outside group to petition to reject any signatures.
Byard said he expected the signatures will be examined closely by groups working to keep the vote off the November ballot. Such groups are funded by organizations supported by out-of-county liquor stores, he said. Byard said a lobbyist from a group opposing the wet efforts was video taping him as he dropped off signatures at the clerk’s office.
Byard was confident since the number of signatures was over the required number.
“They need 440 signatures overturned to have the petition turned down.” Byard said.
Any number less than 440 would allow the matter to remain on the ballot, since more signatures than required were turned in.
A current lawsuit against Let Van Buren County Vote! calls into question the nature of the form the group used for signatures, which had a space for email address or phone number. Byard said he was not concerned about the suit, since the group used a petition form used successfully by another county in the past.
The 4,291 signatures supporting placing the wet vote on the ballot represent 43 percent of Van Buren County registered voters. Byard said the actual percentage was even higher. As the group went door-to-door for signatures, it found a number of voters registered in the county were no longer there, having moved off for work or other reasons.
“The number is closer to 60 percent of the real total [of registered voters],” Byard said.
Let Van Buren County Vote! was made up of just over 30 volunteers, Byard said, who performed various tasks in supporting signature gathering. This included volunteers who attened to clerical functions, as well as those who went out in two-person groups for door-to-door signature gathering.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a seven-week hold on signature gathering, Byard said. Once Gov. Asa Hutchinson re-opened restaurants, the group went back out signature gathering, while practicing public health guidelines including masks, and signers using their own pens, he said.