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'Commotion' and picture taking at 'wet' signature sites

Posted: June 17, 2014 - 5:12pm
A woman working with the They Win, You Lose committee hands out a flyer arguing against the "wet" initiative petition on Tuesday while a paid canvasser, who identified himself only as "Mark" collects signatures. ERIC WHITE PHOTO
A woman working with the They Win, You Lose committee hands out a flyer arguing against the "wet" initiative petition on Tuesday while a paid canvasser, who identified himself only as "Mark" collects signatures. ERIC WHITE PHOTO

The Log Cabin Democrat has gotten a number of emails and letters and some online comments about high tempers and hurt feelings where petitions for a “wet” county vote are being gathered. 

On May 20, election day and not long after the petition drive started, someone called police to break up a yelling match involving, to some extent, a petition gatherer at the McGee Center polling place. 

Since then this newspaper has heard reports, most anonymous, that petition gatherers were being “pushy” and engaging in yelling matches. The paper has also heard that people, mostly young people, working for or with the They Win, You Lose Committee, were being “pushy” and engaging in yelling matches. The paper has also heard, and in one instance one of our reporters and our photographer claim to have seen, people taking pictures of people signing the petitions.

On Wednesday someone stole a petition gatherer’s backpack from the Starbucks coffees shop on Oak Street. It’s not clear if the thief was after the 32 pages of signatures — each with ten signatures on it — or the tablet computer and wallet that were in the backpack. Five pages of signatures were found blowing around the parking lot. 

The library incident, allegedly 

On Sunday afternoon there was some level of commotion outside the doors of the Faulkner County Library, according to library director Nancy Allen. She was inside at a program, she said, and by the time someone told her about it and she got to the front it was over.

Natalie Ghidotti, spokesperson for the Our Community, Our Dollars committee that’s behind the “wet” initiatives at both the state and county level, said that, as she understood it, someone was taking pictures of people signing the petitions and then took pictures of the signed pages themselves at the library on Sunday afternoon. Taking pictures, she said, made someone who’d signed uncomfortable and that led to the commotion.

The petition gatherer at the library on that day would only give his first name, Mark, on Tuesday. Mark said that while his back was turned a young man with a camera quickly leaned over and snapped three pictures of three pages of signatures that were on his table. A man who had just signed got upset, Mark said, because he felt like his privacy had been invaded, and he called the police.

There is no incident report from the library on Sunday, Conway Police Department spokesperson La Tresha Woodruff said, but CPD records show a “call for service” from the library at about 3:30 Sunday afternoon that ended with an “attempt to contact.” This probably means that an officer went out to the library and couldn’t find the person who called, Woodruff said.

The First Amendment’s broad definition of “speech” protects anyone taking pictures of almost anything if they’re lawfully in a public place, but this might rise to the level of criminal harassment if the person’s conduct “alarms or seriously annoys another person and … serves no legitimate purpose” or the person “repeatedly insults, taunts or challenges another person in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response.” Arkansas Code Annotated §5-71-208(a)(4), (5).

Why they take pictures

People working for the They Win, You Lose committee do take pictures, committee chairperson Mary Dillard said, as evidence that a petitioner’s table and signature sheets may have been unattended. They take pictures of the signature sheets themselves so that They Win, You Lose can know, specifically, which signatures to challenge under the law, according to Dillard.

Each part of a petition must have attached to it “the affidavit of the canvasser [signature gatherer] to the effect that … all signatures appearing on the petition part were made in the presence of the [signature gatherer][.].” Arkansas Code Annotated §7-9-108(b). An unattended signature sheet calls the truthfulness of this affidavit into question, Dillard said.

Dillard also said that she had personally seen signature gatherers “lose their cool” in confrontations with people opposed to the “wet” initiative.

Mark was gathering signatures outside the Conway revenue office on Tuesday, and a young woman was standing near his table handing out small “decline to sign” flyers from the They Win, You Lose Committee. Both were courteous, and Mark said that he’d had no problem with the young woman, who he said was being “really nice” in the way she was doing her job to promote her position. 

The young woman was told about claims that some petition gatherers were being “pushy” and “not taking no for an answer.” She nodded, but said she couldn’t talk to the media. She declined to give her name, but said she could say that she worked for the committee. She made a phone call and left a few minutes after we talked to her.

Goings-on at the revenue office

In the fifteen minutes or so that the newspaper watched the goings-on outside the revenue office, Mark was rebuked and lightly berated by an elderly woman who’d just talked with the young woman handing out “decline to sign” flyers about the death of a child and serious injury to his family in an accident caused by a drunk driver. Mark told this elderly woman that he didn’t want to argue with her, and he didn’t engage in an argument. Of course she did not sign. Also, a man who’s been in town for a few months and just got around to getting his Arkansas driver’s license came out of the revenue office. He ended up signing. 

Free speech and the First Amendment

County Attorney David Hogue said on Tuesday that he’d been contacted by National Ballot Access, the professional signature gathering company hired by Our Community, Our Dollars, after a signature gatherer was asked to leave the library property, allegedly because of a disruption that was bothering library patrons.

The First Amendment has been consistently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court protects “political speech” such as signature gathering and opposition to signature gathering, when it is done in a reasonable time, place and manner.

“As long as the speech is being done in a peaceable way, we’re fine,” Hogue said. “If it’s in a way that’s obstructing the operations of, for instance, the library or its patrons, that’s when time, place and manner restrictions may be appropriate regardless of viewpoint.”

An extreme form of “time, place and manner” restrictions on political speech involves a governmental agency establishing a “free speech zone.” The University of Central Arkansas has an established “free speech zone” in the plaza in front of the UCA Student Center to prevent disruption of campus activities. Also, free speech that is especially obnoxious to the general public such as that practiced by the Westborough church in states including Arkansas is confined to a “free speech zone” that is generally out of sight of whatever they’re protesting.

Hogue said that the disruptions he’s heard of concerning the “wet” initiative so far don’t approach the need for a “free speech zone.”

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odoketa
394
Points
odoketa 06/17/14 - 05:43 pm
7
3
I still can't believe

I live in a place where people seriously oppose this. If you'd told me ten years ago such a place even existed, I'd have said you were lying. I don't remember using a time machine when I moved down here, but I've seen the comments and received the mailings. I mean, I get that all the border liquor stores are terrified, because their revenue will evaporate, but actual opposition to a wet county? Amazing.

We moved here despite misgivings, and one of those was 'what kind of place still has dry counties?' I think because it's a fact of life here, people don't realize how backwater it seems to people from other places. There's a real negative financial impact to that sort of image. It's an invisible tax we all pay, but because it doesn't show up in your mailbox you don't know it's there. But every job candidate or business owner who decides not to come to Conway because, for heaven's sake, you can't even buy alcohol there, costs us all.

conwaygerl
5835
Points
conwaygerl 06/17/14 - 06:04 pm
4
7
the trick

is to sign it several times at different locations.
no way they can verify all those signatures.

mikeng1994
11676
Points
mikeng1994 06/17/14 - 06:32 pm
9
0
Not me, I signed one at wal

Not me, I signed one at wal mart and will not sign another. I know there are those who do, but it is no different than a person committing voter fraud.

conwaygerl
5835
Points
conwaygerl 06/17/14 - 06:51 pm
5
0
and

the people blocking and interfering aren't committing voter fraud?

I agree 100% with you, I'm against it, but it certainly should make the ballot.

This is voter intimidation, stealing pages and such, so forgive me if I happen to forget I've signed it already.

Not to mention there are two items to petition for, that's two signatures needed.

mikeng1994
11676
Points
mikeng1994 06/18/14 - 07:16 am
6
1
Agreed

Even the marijuana proposal needs to be on the ballot. I'm voting against it for the record, but it should be up to the voters. If it passes, I'll make it ok. I've put up with this administration for 6 years now, I can survive anything.

braydin
970
Points
braydin 06/18/14 - 11:46 am
1
1
Sure would have been easier

Sure would have been easier to put up if we could have gotten high... ;)

conwaygerl
5835
Points
conwaygerl 06/17/14 - 06:52 pm
7
0
and

it's the rare opportunity for the PEOPLE to make a policy, not a politician.

so I'm all for this form of democracy.

Elmer Fudd
4254
Points
Elmer Fudd 06/18/14 - 10:54 am
2
0
Yep conwaygerl

sick of the laws created by a pen and phone.

Igor Rabinowitz
9117
Points
Igor Rabinowitz 06/18/14 - 08:32 am
5
1
The question

It's not a question of "opposition." People agree/don't agree with the wet thing, that is what it is.

It's that people are following the rules to get the not/wet on a ballot, and other people are engaging in intimidation tactics trying to sway the effort.

This effort to corrupt the process is not only selfish, but un-American. We are a nation of laws, laws which at least imply order, and when some jerk who simply doesn't like it works to intimidate those who don't agree with their view, its bullying, it's base, it's obscene, it's what terrorists do, it is, thinking about it, terrorism.

So yes, I'm stating that however well meaning, the antis are terrorists.

In this era of public temper tantrums and twisted "facts" used to "prove" a position (see: Court, Quorum) and the public tantrum as free speech (see: Party, Tea) they are following social trends, but that speaks even worse for these terrorists.

They are dogs, wagged by ego's tail. And again, un-American.

sheniqua
207
Points
sheniqua 06/18/14 - 11:43 am
4
0
it's shoudn't always be about the money - $$$$$$$$$$$$$

so sad that in the world we live in today, everything is the bottom line

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