LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A lawsuit filed by Dan Whitfield of Bella Vista and Gary Fults of Hensley went to trial on Wednesday. Whitfield is an Independent candidate for US Senate and Fults is an Independent state House candidate in District 31.
Both candidates filed lawsuits over how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their ability to gain the required signatures needed to be placed on the November ballot. Independent candidates have a 90-day window prior to May 1 to gather signatures.
Whitfield needed to gather 10,000 but only turned in 6,514. He testified that he was confident in reaching the 10,000 requirement if he’d had more time. He claims the beginning March 12 when Governor Asa Hutchinson began imposing restrictions it severely hampered his efforts and he says he put the safety of his volunteers over the gathering of signatures.
Fults, who only required 286 signatures, says he was was ill during the month of February and had limited time to gather signatures once the pandemic took hold of Arkansas. He was able to gather 62 which he mostly got from mailing out petitions to those who voted in the Democrat Primary in his district.
The defense also brought in two other candidates, one whom was successful in gathering signatures and one who was not.
Attorneys for the Secretary of State argues that the state did not cause the pandemic and emphasized that the state never issued a stay at home order so candidates could have still gathered signatures even using social guidelines that were recommended. They claim that there are no overburdensome requirements for Independent candidates and that the gathering of signatures ensures that candidates are serious about the position and to prevent overcrowding the ballot.