30 candidates for judicial and prosecutor elections submit requests for access to the ballot to waive fees
Thirty candidates for judicial office filed requests for access to ballots before Friday’s deadline, less than half the number expected by the secretary of state’s office.
The covid-19 pandemic has presented several challenges in elections over the past two years, including an impact on the process of collecting signatures for petitions.
Starting December 31, candidates for judge and prosecutor could file petitions to avoid paying a filing fee to get to the ballot for the May 24 non-partisan election.
Most of the candidates who filed a petition have had to collect at least 2,000 signatures of recorded votes since November. Candidates for the Supreme Court must collect at least 10,000 signatures.
Judicial and prosecutor candidates who have elected to pay fees will file from February 22 to March 1, the filing period for partisan candidates for other offices.
Fees vary depending on the candidate.
The lowest filing fees are $ 4,240 for a B Division attorney and can reach as high as $ 11,970 for a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Arkansas.
Kevin Niehaus, spokesperson for the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, said that the first day of court filing is usually the busiest, but as of Monday only 10 candidates had filed.
“Considering the number of seats open in this election, we estimated that around 70 people would file by petition,” he said in an email. âTypically 70% of non-partisan candidates will petition, but as you can see the numbers are dropping dramatically.
âI assumed it was due to covid and candidates not wanting to get petition signatures,â Niehaus said.
David Sachar, executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, said that to his knowledge no petition extension request has been granted.
“I know there have been requests, not just from judicial candidates, to change the rules, but they have all been turned down,” he said. “I was told that was a no. It’s either receiving the petitions or paying.”
Sachar said he couldn’t say for sure that the drop was entirely due to covid-19, as election cycles vary from year to year.
âThe 2020 cycle was a much bigger cycle than this year,â he said. “The judicial cycles are not the same because you have to see who is standing in 2022 versus who is standing in 2024. I don’t know if [covid] is the reason, but I’m sure it made it harder to get signatures. Common knowledge and logic would tell you that covid plays a role. “
State District Judge David Graham de Magnolia, who is running as a circuit judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit, said any candidate sailing on vacation and covid-19 to get signatures likely found out quickly at what point this election season would be difficult.
âI had to rely on a lot more people than me because of the limited contact we could have,â he said. “It was a lot of networking. It was friends of friends, colleagues and neighbors who made this possible. I think this is the most difficult time to get signatures that I have ever known.”
LaTonya Austin-Honorable, a lawyer running as a circuit judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit covering Pulaski and Perry counties, said this was her third candidacy for a judge, and it was the most difficult due to in-person events being so limited. year.
“Although I am convinced that we got enough signatures, we have had to work very hard this year to find people who are ready to sign,” she said. “I am a sociable person, so it was terribly difficult.”
These challenges led the candidates to be creative in collecting signatures.
Brenda Stallings, a lawyer running for circuit judge for the 12th Division, said she had to give herself two months in November to make sure she had enough time to get the signatures she had. need in the midst of the pandemic.
âWe had a lot of challenges,â she said. âThe first thing we did was order pens with our information on them that we gave people to keep when they signed the petition.â¦ We literally had buckets of pens that we took with us. we.”
Saline County District Judge Stephanie Casady, who is running for an Arkansas Court of Appeals job, said she was able to file her motion by stepping outside of normal group events.
âI had to knock on some doors and a lot of people collected petitions for me at their Thanksgiving gatherings and their neighborhoods over the holidays,â she said. âI will tell you that on November 8th it was a little overwhelming having to think about how you were going to get 2,000 signatures and you really need 3,000. It was nice knowing you could afford the fees. if needed to participate in the ballot, but it was close to $ 9,000, and I’m happy to spend that elsewhere. “
Austin-Honorable said his campaign needed to prospect in churches and outdoor grocery stores instead of normal neighborhood associations because of the covid forcing so many events to be held virtually.
âA lot of my support came from churches and things like parades,â she said. âThere were still two parades that took place last year, so we were able to use those two events to collect signatures, but this pandemic has changed the way we can make physical contact. We had to get out of the grocery stores. , which is something we haven’t done in the past. “
Austin-Honorable said she is really worried that she won’t be able to get enough signatures because of the pandemic.
âI had some money set aside,â she said with a laugh. âMy husband told me at the door that we weren’t going to get those signatures, but I love the challenges. Fingers and toes crossed, we got the 2,000 signatures we need so we don’t have to. pay those ridiculous application fees. “
Stallings shared the fear, saying their campaign had to pivot around Christmas time because they feared they would not be able to collect enough signatures.
âWe had to start calling people and I started emailing the petition to people who were meeting family members so they could print it out and sign it,â she said. âInstead of meeting people at their homes, I had to communicate with people who wanted to know more about the campaign via Zoom or phone calls.â
Stallings said even this week it needed to add even more security measures as covid cases continued to rise.
“I had to ask people to put the petitions on their front door in a plastic bag so I could pick them up before filing them,” she said.
Devon Holder, a lawyer for Pocahontas who is posing as a 3rd Judicial Circuit prosecutor, said he had not faced many challenges related to covid-19 in the past two months, but could have problems later.
Austin-Honorable has said she expects the pandemic to completely change the campaign process.
âEven though some people are predicting it will peak in a few weeks, I have no doubts that it will change the way we campaign,â she said.