'Demon Rum' ruled off the ballot

• I don't often read the Batesville, Arkansas, Daily Guard-Record -- in fact, I'd never heard of it before today. However, I found myself smitten with its reporting style on this particular topic:

By Larry Stroud
Guard Associate Editor

"ASH FLAT, AR — When District Judge Phil Smith handed down his ruling Thursday saying the wet-dry issue in Sharp County should be stricken from the November ballot, Batesville attorney David Blair was thrilled.

“ 'The judge has ruled I have saved Sharp County from demon rum,' Blair said jokingly.

"Smith based his ruling on the signatures being insufficient, said Blair, who represented Yota Shaw in one of two civil lawsuits challenging petitions used to get the issue on the ballot until Smith’s ruling changed things.

"The other suit was filed by Morris Street of Cherokee Village. Shaw is from rural Strawberry.

"The suits were combined for a circuit court trial that covered most of three days earlier this week.

"Smith noted that state law sets mandatory requirements for the gathering and notarizing of petitions for local option elections.

"The law, he writes, 'clearly sets out certain prohibited actions regarding the signing and verification of local option petitions ... '

"Prohibited actions include, but are not limited to, signing any name other than one’s own to a petition; knowingly making a false statement on a verification form when acting as a canvasser; and when acting in the capacity of a notary, knowingly failing to witness a canvasser’s signing at the bottom of the petition forms.

"Smith also gave great weight to testimony of expert witness Dawn D. Reed, a forensic document examiner who testified that 238 signatures appeared to have had common authorship (were written by the same person).

"Smith tossed those 238 names and also declared the signature of Charlotte Harrell to be invalid and to not be counted toward the total of needed signatures.

“ 'Mrs. Harrell’s husband signed her name and the canvasser made a marginal notation of that before signing the verification,' Smith wrote in the ruling. 'Therefore, only her name and not the entire page should be excluded.'

"Smith declared an additional 222 signatures invalid because notary Linda Thompson notarized about 85% of the petitions brought to her by Save Energy Reap Taxes president Ruth Reynolds although Reynolds’ signature was already on the petitions. She observed Reynolds sign the other 15%.

"Reynolds, the primary canvasser for the wet-dry vote petitions, testified earlier this week that she signed about 85% of the petitions she took to Thompson beforehand, rather than in front of Thompson.

"Thompson, on the stand, gave the same percentage figure.

"Smith, in the ruling, noted that Reynolds testified 'she would sign a group of the petitions and then take them to Ms. Thompson for notarization to try to save time.

Smith counted the number of petitions Thompson had notarized for Reynolds, which came to 31, and tossed 85% of those petitions.

“ 'The total of signatures declared invalid ... is 461,' Smith wrote. 'Deducting this number from the 4,620 signatures previously validated by the county clerk leaves 4,159 legally valid signatures on the local option petitions submitted by SERT — 210 short of the 4,369 required (by law) ...

“ 'Therefore, the petition for the local option in Sharp County must fail and the issue shall not be decided at the November 8, 2008, general election.'

"Since ballots have to be prepared well in advance, the question may actually appear on the ballot. If time is not sufficient to remove that wording from the ballot, any votes cast for or against the wet-dry issue will not be counted, Smith said.

"A message left at attorney R.T. Starken’s office this morning as to whether Reynolds and Save Energy Reap Taxes plan to appeal Smith’s ruling was not returned by press time. Starken represented SERT.

"A call to Reynolds’ home number was not answered and no answering machine picked up."

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