LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' highest court ruled Monday that a proposal to gradually raise the state's minimum wage can remain on the November ballot.
The Arkansas Supreme Court denied a Little Rock businessman's effort to block a ballot question that will ask voters to raise the state's minimum hourly wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017. Arkansas is one of the few states with a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 an hour.
Early voting for the election began Oct. 20.
The businessman, Jackson T. Stephens Jr., said supporters missed a key deadline for submitting their petition and that some signatures were invalid because a notary's signature had been forged. Justices said the secretary of state's office properly certified the question, known as Issue No. 5, for the ballot.
"It gives Arkansas voters an opportunity to vote on giving hard-working Arkansans a raise," said Steve Copley, chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, which petitioned to place the question on the ballot. "We always felt that if we could get this before voters, they would support this."
Stephens said the ruling was disappointing and called for a ballot measure allowing the recall of judges in response to the decision.
"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," Stephens said in a statement.
Democrats have been pushing the wage increase, touting it as a way to boost turnout in the November election. The party's top candidates — including Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross — endorsed the measure earlier this year, and the state party adopted the increase as part of its platform.
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is trying to unseat Pryor, and GOP gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure after it was certified for the November ballot.
A special judge appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court said this month that enough valid signatures were submitted to put the measure on the ballot. But Stephens' attorneys disagreed, saying that about 8,500 names should've been tossed because a notary's signature had been forged. The court said Monday that the petitions appeared valid, which was all that was required at the time of the secretary of state's initial review.
"What the Supreme Court looked at, and rightfully so, is not that the canvasser or the notary did something wrong, but looked at the most important thing ... the voters who actually signed the petition," said David Couch, a lawyer for the group promoting the raise.
Stephens had also argued that the petitions for the measure should have been submitted by July 4, rather than the July 7 deadline. The court had ruled in a separate case this month that the state had the authority to extend the deadline if it fell on a holiday and cited that decision in rejecting Stephens' argument Monday.
Stephens is board chairman of the conservative Club for Growth, and his father, Jackson T. Stephens Sr., co-founded the investment firm Stephens Inc.
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