With election season gearing up, we’re all hearing about a few counties in Arkansas who have the wet/dry issue on the ballot. I’ve heard from folks in several counties who are thinking, “Why can’t that be me?”
If you’re thinking about making a wet/dry election (called a “local option” election under Arkansas law) happen in your county, here’s an overview of the process and how I can help.
READ THIS FIRST!
The most important thing about a successful local option election is that it requires a coordinated and sustained effort by a committed local group. Without a core group of volunteers willing to advance a grassroots effort, any local option election is destined to fail. I can assist with all phases of the process, but at the end of the day the local presence will determine whether the initiative makes the ballot.
The second most important thing about a local option election is that exact compliance with Arkansas election law is required during the petition phase. There are many Arkansas cases where substantial compliance was not good enough. Most of my initial efforts are designed to educate the core group on what it takes to achieve compliance with Arkansas election law, because the petition phase is typically the longest part of a local option campaign.
I break a local option campaign down into five major categories: (1) accounting; (2) fundraising; (3) public relations; (4) canvassing; and (5) legal. Each will be discussed in more detail below. Ideally, a ballot question committee (“BQC”), which is the legal entity required for advancing a local option election, will be made up of an executive committee that has a chairman, a document coordinator, and a head of each of the five divisions discussed below.
The accounting division handles initial registration of the BQC, tax identification numbers, and bank accounts. Monthly reports are required of donations, loans, and expenditures during the campaign, and a final report must be submitted once the election is over. Typically during an election cycle, I assist with setting up the BQC and fielding questions concerning reporting requirements for certain types of contributions and loans.
The fundraising division solicits donations, keeps track of income, and turns accurate records over to the accounting division. The main purpose for my involvement in the fundraising division is to ensure that reporting requirements are met. Some reporting requirements for BQCs are slightly different than ordinary campaign finance laws.
The public relations division is responsible for advertising and turning out the vote. My involvement in PR work for local option campaigns has varied widely, but at its apex I extensively researched wet/dry statistics; created mail pieces, flyers, and newspaper ads; wrote op-ed pieces; ran social media campaigns; and gave newspaper interviews about the election process.
The canvassing division involves the actual collection of registered voter signatures. It involves training members of the BQC to both collect signatures and train others how to collect signatures in compliance with Arkansas election law. Alternatively, a BQC may elect to hire an outside firm to gather signatures for a fee. This division is responsible for knowing who is a registered voter, whether they have signed the petition, and whether each signature should count towards a rolling tally.
Because I am a lawyer and cannot be a witness to any case that may arise as a result of the petition process, my involvement in this phase is limited to the initial training session and then fielding questions from canvassers during the petition drive.
The legal division is responsible for drafting the actual petition language, getting it approved by the local Board of Election Commissioners, and certifying it before circulation. This division is also responsible for the initial training sessions for canvassers. It is also a good idea for the legal division to periodically check for updates to relevant election laws. Usually I field questions during the petition drive over electioneering issues. Examples of questions that I have fielded before are:
- Can I gather petition signatures in the church parking lot during the primary election as long as I’m 100 feet from the door?
- Does a signature count if the person dies?
- How many signatures do we need?
Invariably, different issues arise during each election. I understand that assisting with elections requires me to be both knowledgeable and responsive so that my clients can get quick answers to time-sensitive questions.
WHAT I PROVIDE
Much of my work on local option elections involves preparing the BQC to gather signatures and conduct the campaign in compliance with Arkansas law. I provide the actual initiative petition; organizational charts; detailed instructions for the document coordinator, canvasser trainers, and canvassers; example ads, postcards, and flyers; report forms for the Arkansas Ethics Commission; and relevant laws, regulations, and rules governing local option elections. I use these materials to train the people who will gather signatures and who will train others to gather signatures themselves. All this occurs before the first signature is signed onto the petition.
My involvement afterwards becomes that of campaign consultant. I am as involved as your BQC wants me to be. That can range from fielding the occasional legal question to being actively involved in preparing campaign materials and running social media and other advertising campaigns.
Litigation often arises during local option campaigns. It is my goal to avoid litigation by putting in the preparatory work so that the petition drive is performed correctly and is insulated from a legal challenge. In the event the petition is challenged, however, I am an experienced trial attorney with a strong handle on the evidentiary and legal requirements necessary to win a legal challenge to my clients’ petitions.
If you’re interested in organizing a BQC in your county, please give me a call. I’d be happy to help.