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Barling liquor vote contains unusual twist

By The Associated Press

This article was published September 16, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

— Voters in the western Arkansas city of Barling will decide in November whether to allow liquor sales, but a question has been raised over whether the vote is legally appropriate.

City Director Bruce Farrar led an effort to gather signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Needing 800 names, organizers got about 1,000 signatures and the city clerk certified the vote.

Prosecutor Dan Shue researched the 1944 law that made Barling a dry city and found that it came about in a special election, in which the entire lower half of Sebastian County voted, not just Barling.

“We had two districts, upper and lower,” said Lee Webb, chairman of the three-member Sebastian County Election Commission. “Fort Smith voted for (alcohol sales) and the Greenwood district voted against it. According to law, the entire district has to vote on whether or not Barling can have alcohol.”

According to an April 20, 1944, edition of the Southwest American newspaper, the Greenwood district, which includes Barling, voted dry 1,190-463.

The ballots are being printed, so the question will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. But a successful court challenge could mean the votes wouldn’t be counted, or the validity of the measure could be targeted in court if the measure passes.

“There are some legal issues,” Shue told the Southwest Times Record. “If it passes, I think it’s safe to say this matter may very well end up in litigation and a determination will have to be made in the courts.”

Webb said the commission’s role is to put the measure on the ballot if it has been certified by the city clerk.

“The best we can tell, the petitioner was given wrong information from the clerk’s office for the number of signatures and where they had to gather those signatures from,” Webb said. “Greenwood, Hartford, Mansfield, Hackett — everything outside the city limits of Fort Smith should have been on that ballot.”

A judge could have the issue nullified based on a complaint, Webb said.

“If someone, a liquor store or somebody with a grievance, was to go to court and file a complaint, I would say it’s a real good shot the judge would have it taken off,” he said. “It’s actually too late to take it off the ballot, but we just wouldn’t count the ballots.”

Barling is a bedroom community to Fort Smith, and Farrar said allowing liquor sales would encourage business development.

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