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Judge dismisses complaint against Civil Rights Administration special election

Ballot language sufficient by Joel Walsh, Ron Wood | October 23, 2014 at 11:12 a.m. | Updated October 23, 2014 at 12:39 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Washington County Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay dismissed a complaint Thursday seeking to void petitions and cancel a special election on whether to repeal Fayetteville's Civil Rights Administration ordinance.

Lindsay found that ballot language and petitions in a special election on whether to repeal the city's Civil Rights Administration ordinance are valid.

Lindsay found that the copy of the ordinance with petitions was legible, despite small type, and complied with requirements. He found no evidence of the fraud alleged in the lawsuit.

Lindsay found that the ballot language is sufficient, meeting all legal requirements without being misleading or partisan. Voters will understand that they are voting for or against repeal of the ordinance, and copies of the ordinance will be available at voting sites, Lindsay said.

Kristin Higgins had sued to stop a special election on whether to repeal the city Civil Rights Administration ordinance.

Jeff Priebe, a Little Rock attorney, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Higgins, a Fayetteville resident and University of Arkansas professor. The lawsuit asked Lindsay to void all petitions collected by Repeal 119 and cancel a Dec. 9 special election, which would determine the fate of the city's Civil Rights Administration ordinance.

Travis Story, general counsel for Repeal 119, said the issue should remain on the Dec. 9 ballot and ballot language approved by the Washington County Election Commission should be used.

City Attorney Kit Williams suggested replacing the approved ballot language with a copy of the Civil Rights Administration ordinance in full. Williams also argued that a "for" vote should be for the ordinance in question, rather than having a "for" vote be for repeal of the ordinance.

During his ruling Lindsay said ballot titles must provide voters a clear idea of what they are voting on.

An initial request for ballot language from Repeal 119 only included the ordinance number and Chapter 119, the section of city code that would be added. It made no mention of the ordinance title, "Civil Rights Administration," or what the ordinance would do.

Lindsay said the Election Commission's job is to use the language submitted for the ballot. The entire ordinance is not required.

Jennifer Price, election coordinator, has said the ordinance would be available for review at voting sites.

The submitted petitions calling for the special election contained more than 5,700 signatures. Employees in the clerk's office certified about 4,300. They stopped certifying once they were sure they crossed the 4,095 threshold to refer the ordinance to a public referendum. Lindsay said no additional signatures will have to be certified.

The ordinance, if it goes into effect, would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on someone's sexual orientation, gender identity and a number of other characteristics. It would also create a municipal civil rights administrator position to field and investigate complaints of discrimination.


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