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The folks working to get issues to the Arkansas general election ballot are down to their last few weeks of opportunity.

At stake are proposals to allow casino gambling and to raise the state's minimum wage.

Secretary of State Mark Martin's office had, as of Monday, granted backers of both measures the chance to "cure" problems with their petitions.

Their initial petitions fell short of the required number of voter signatures to be certified to the ballot. But they had enough signatures to win more time to collect the balance of signatures needed. Each group got an additional month.

The proposals in this year's crop of citizen-backed initiatives met an initial July 6 deadline to submit petitions to the secretary of state's office.

Ever since, the office has been validating the signatures and, as is always the case, not all proved valid.

Petitioners for the gambling amendment to the state Constitution and the minimum wage initiated act need roughly 15,000 more valid signatures for each proposal, although the requirements for each are different. A constitutional amendment requires 84,859 valid signatures; an initiated act 67,887.

According to the secretary of state's office, petitioners for the amendment have so far submitted no more than 70,054 valid signatures while petitioners for the initiated act turned in no more than 52,124.

A month should be more than enough time for each group to gather 15,000 signatures. Supporters collected all the signatures they submitted in a tight time frame necessitated when Attorney General Leslie Rutledge repeatedly rejected proposed wording for different proposals. She finally signed off on the ballot language and the petitioners got their petitions circulating in time to hit that July 6 deadline.

If Secretary of State Martin eventually certifies these issues to the ballot, there's still a chance they could be stopped in court.

Typically, controversial issues like the casino gambling proposal must navigate legal challenges to stay on the ballot or to be counted.

Then and only then will the people weigh in with their votes.

What might they be voting on?

The casino gambling amendment is a doozy.

It would authorize four casinos in Arkansas and is sponsored by an outfit called Driving Arkansas Forward.

The sponsors like to talk about the issue in economic development terms, including the creation of jobs in the affected counties.

And they've thrown in a gimmick, suggesting related tax revenue to the state could go toward road improvements.

Whatever the enticements, it is still a casino gambling amendment and Arkansas voters have rejected plenty of those in the past.

This one is designed, however, to appease some former foes, including anyone who might have been a competitor.

Two of the four casinos it would allow would be at or adjacent to Southland Gaming and Racing in West Memphis and to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs. Both tracks now offer so-called electronic games of skill but could expand under the new authority. Their licenses would be automatically available.

New casinos would be allowed in Pope and Jefferson counties, close to Russellville and Pine Bluff respectively. But applicants must have prior experience operating casinos.

The Quapaw and Cherokee tribes, which operate casinos in neighboring Oklahoma, have collectively given $1.2 million toward the campaign. They clearly see expansion opportunities in Arkansas.

The Quapaw are said to be interested in applying for the Jefferson County location and the Cherokee want the one in Pope County.

The decision to issue licenses would be up to the state Racing Commission.

The ballot title alone is more than 700 words, so there's not space here to break it down more. Suffice it to say, this one needs a lot of scrutiny before Arkansas voters consider writing it into the state Constitution. Driving Arkansas Forward has posted the amendment at http://drivingarkansasforward.com/amendment-language.

The minimum wage proposal comes from Arkansans For A Fair Wage and would hike the state's minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 an hour by 2021.

It has its own detractors, including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas and other business interests.

But Arkansas voters did raise the minimum wage in 2014, when presented the opportunity.

Petitions for one more proposal, which would shorten term limits for Arkansas legislators, are still being reviewed by the secretary of state's office.

Sooner or later, the petitions for each of these proposals will be found to be sufficient or not.

For now, the attention is on the validity of the signatures (and collecting more). Later, the focus will turn to content.

Commentary on 08/01/2018

Print Headline: The clock is ticking

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