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Zook v. Martin

Supreme Court of Arkansas

October 18, 2018

RANDY ZOOK, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ARKANSANS FOR A STRONG ECONOMY, A BALLOT QUESTION COMMITTEE PETITIONER
v.
MARK MARTIN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS RESPONDENT KRISTIN FOSTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ARKANSANS FOR A FAIR WAGE INTERVENOR

         AN ORIGINAL ACTION

          Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Elizabeth Robben Murray, Ellen Owens Smith, Joshua C. Ashley, and Allison C. Pearson, for petitioner.

          AJ Kelly, Deputy Secretary of State and General Counsel; and Michael Fincher, Associate General Counsel, for respondent.

          David A. Couch, PLLC, by: David A. Couch; and CapRock Law Firm, PLLC, by: Preston T. Eldridge, for intervenor.

          KAREN R. BAKER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Randy Zook, petitioner, challenges the sufficiency of a statewide-initiative petition. Respondent, the Honorable Mark Martin, Arkansas Secretary of State, certified the initiative entitled "An Act to Increase the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act," also known as "Issue No. 5," which is on the November 6, 2018 ballot. The proposed Act is sponsored by intervenor, Kristin Foster, Individually and on behalf of Arkansans for A Fair Wage ("sponsor-intervenor"). Because we do not find merit in Zook's claims, we deny the petition.

         Article 5, § 1 of the Arkansas Constitution governs both statewide and local initiatives and referendums. Jurisdiction to review the sufficiency of statewide initiative petitions is conferred upon this court by way of Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution. See Ward v. Priest, 350 Ark. 345, 86 S.W.3d 884 (2002). Amendment 7 states that "[t]he sufficiency of all state-wide petitions shall be decided in the first instance by the Secretary of State, subject to review by the Supreme Court of the State, which shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all such causes." Ark. Const. art. 5, § 1, amended by Ark. Const. amend. 7. Following certification by the Secretary of State, Amendment 7 clearly confers original and exclusive jurisdiction upon this court to review the Secretary of State's decision as to the sufficiency of the petition. See Ward, 350 Ark. 345, 86 S.W.3d 884; see also Stephens v. Martin, 2014 Ark. 442, at 6, 491 S.W.3d 451, 454.

         The relevant history of this matter is as follows. On July 6, 2018, the sponsor-intervenor initially submitted 69, 413 signatures to Martin. Martin performed an initial prima facie review and validated 68, 861 signatures. On July 30, 2018, Martin notified the sponsor-intervenor that 52, 124 signatures submitted were valid, and pursuant to article 5 section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, if a petition contains 75 percent of the necessary valid signatures to be certified on the ballot, the petition qualifies for a thirty-day cure period.[1] Martin informed the sponsor-intervenor that she had earned the thirty-day cure period to submit additional signatures. On August 3, 2018, the sponsor-intervenor submitted her cure signatures for a total of 113, 160 signatures, and 85, 526 were valid signatures. On August 16, 2018, Martin certified the petition as sufficient for inclusion on the 2018 general-election ballot.

         On September 4, 2018, Zook filed his petition with this court. In challenging the sufficiency of the initiative petition, Zook contends that the sponsor-intervenor did not submit an adequate number of signatures and the petition should not have not qualified for the cure. Zook contends that Martin improperly counted invalid petitions and signatures that qualified the sponsor-intervenor's petition for a cure and ultimately certified Issue No. 5 for the November 6, 2018 general election ballot. Accordingly, Zook contends that because the petitions submitted to Martin failed to contain the 75 percent of the number of valid signatures needed in the initial filing and she was not entitled to the cure period and, therefore, signatures obtained after July 6, 2018 should not have been counted.

         On September 6, 2018, we appointed the Honorable Sam Bird as special master in this matter. The special master held a hearing on September 17-19, 2018, at which he heard testimony, heard the arguments of counsel, and received evidence.

         On September 24, 2018, the special master entered his findings that the sponsor-intervenor's petition had sufficient signatures to qualify for a cure period and exceeded the minimum number of signatures (67, 887) required to qualify for placement on the November 6, 2018 ballot. The parties have now filed their respective briefs in this matter. We deny the petition.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under our standard of review, we will accept the special master's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. See Roberts v. Priest, 334 Ark. 503, 975 S.W.2d 850 (1998). A finding of fact is clearly erroneous, even if there is evidence to support it, when, based on the entire evidence, the court is left with the definite and firm conviction that the master has made a mistake. Id.

         On review of this challenge, we are tasked with interpreting article 5, section 1-- including amendment 93 of 2014-which amended article 5, section 1. "In interpreting the constitution on appeal, our task is to read the law as it is written and interpret it in accordance with established principles of constitutional construction. First Nat'l Bank of DeWitt v. Cruthis, 360 Ark. 528, 203 S.W.3d 88 (2005). It is this court's responsibility to decide what a constitutional provision means, and we will review a lower court's construction de novo. Id. Language of a constitutional provision that is plain and unambiguous must be given its obvious and ...


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