Lawsuit fails to stop Fayetteville election on civil rights ordinance | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lawsuit fails to stop Fayetteville election on civil rights ordinance

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 6:35 AM

click to enlarge KRISTIN HIGGINS: UA prof testifies to misinformation from petitioners to repeal Fayetteville civil rights ordinance.
  • KRISTIN HIGGINS: UA prof testifies to misinformation from petitioners to repeal Fayetteville civil rights ordinance.
A hearing was held Wednesday in Fayetteville on a lawsuit attempting to block a special election on the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance that it includes protection for gay people against discrimination in housing and employment.

The plaintiff, Kristin Higgins, a UA professor, testified that petition canvassers told her to get her signature that the petitions were in support of the ordinance. They were not. The drive was led by conservative religious groups that oppose civil rights protection for gay people.

An article at Northwest Arkansas Online quote Higgins as saying she was appalled to find her name on the list of people who'd approved the election.

"My name being on that petition goes against everything I believe in and value," she said.

The lawsuit alleges other problems with signature gathering in arguing that the election should be canceled. The attorney defending the petitions said that if there were irregularities, individual signatures or perhaps pages of signatures, should be invalidated but not the entire election.

Judge Mark Lindsay has promised a speedy ruling. The election is set Dec. 9. A dispute continues on how the ballot question is framed. Backers of repeal want a YES on the ballot to equate to a vote to kill the civil rights ordinance. The city attorney says the question should be yes or no on allowing the ordinance to stand.

Jeff Priebe, attorney for Higgins, tells me that the proceeding was delayed by a power outage at the courthouse. Closing arguments are set this morning at 9 a.m. and he anticipates a ruling shortly thereafter.

By the way: A website lists, in searchable form, all those who signed petitions to call an election on the ordinance. I learned about this from Stephen Coger, an Arkansas human rights activist currently working in India, who's written an article for the Fayetteville Flyer on the sometimes irrational fears about transgender people that have been raised in the debate over the ordinance. "Gender madness," he called it. He said he was surprised to find "folks I love" on the petition list. Perhaps a lot of them were like Higgins — misled.

UPDATE: Judge Lindsay has overruled complaints that the ballot title, as printed on petitions, wasn't legible enough. He cleared the Dec. 9 vote on the issue, but said it must be clear on what the voters are considering. It would appear his ruling ratifies the misleading way the item was presented by the County Election Commission — a vote for or against repeal of the ordinance. The city wanted the ballot title, if approved, to be for or against the ordinance itself. Lindsey said it was clear to voters what they'd be voting on.

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