Efforts ongoing to circulate petition for wet/dry election

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By Lisa King

A few weeks ago, Katie Sjothun took on the daunting task of gathering thousands of signatures for a wet/dry election in the interest of what she considered to be ‘fair’ for the good of Shelby County.

Now, with most of the red tape behind her, she said she is getting more excited than ever about the prospect of completing the task – collecting nearly 4,700 signatures for her petition.

If she gains the necessary signatures by Sept. 6, the special election could be held as early as December. The vote is not for the sale of individual drinks or drinks at restaurants, both of which are already allowed under the count’s moist status, but only to allow the sale of packaged alcohol, which is already allowed in Shelbyville.

“I’m very pleased; it’s only been a week, and already I’ve got well over one-hundred signatures,” she said.

That’s a good start, but to meet her goal of 5,000 signatures – which should help eliminate the worry of duplicates and non-registered voter signatures – and turning the petition in by Sept. 6, she would need to collect nearly 550 signatures a week for the nine remaining weeks. Each signature collected must come from a county resident who is registered to vote.

For those not registered to vote, Sjothun and her fellow volunteers will have voter registration cards that can be filled out on the spot.

Can she do it?

“Oh, Lord, it’s so hard physically, just getting around in this weather,” she said. “But I’m not giving up.”

Sjothun has plans to help the process, including circulating petitions at upcoming festivals and other events, including downtown street concerts and the Shelbyville Horse Show, as well as trying to enlist the help of even more volunteers. She already has a few people helping. Even if people would be willing to just collect signatures in their neighborhood, that would help immensely, she said.

“Anybody that wants to take around a petition to a neighborhood would be more than welcome; I would be very grateful,” she said.

Sjothun has already taken petitions to businesses throughout the county, including in Bagdad and Waddy, and said retailers have been very receptive.

“I’ve gotten a tremendous response from the eastern end of the county,” she said. “But there aren’t many places you can put petitions in the western end. Beyond Simpsonville, what do you have?”

At least the hard part is over, she said of getting the petition drawn up and learning about the odds and ends of what is involved in the process of holding a special election.

“It was just trying to get a handle on the various rules and regs,” she said. “It was a lot of back and forth work, like what is the time frame between the last election and this one, and how many people voted in the last presidential election, and just the technical aspects of when we can set the dates, and you know, thanks to [county clerk] Sue Carol [Perry] and the judge [Rob Rothenburger], we got it figured out. That’s pretty well nailed down.”

Even though Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger had said that he did not want to be involved in the process of putting together a wet/dry election to change Shelby County’s “moist” status to that of wet, his office, along with that of Shelby County Clerk Sue Carol Perry help expedite the process, drawing up the petition for Sjothun, because it had be worded in a certain manner.

Perry also supplied Sjothun with information about the correct number of signatures that would be needed to hold a special election.

“The number of signatures we need is based upon the percentage [25 percent] of the total voters of the last presidential election,” Sjothun said. “Also, they can only sign the petition once.”

Perry elaborated further on some of the conditions, saying that even if someone did not vote in 2012, they can still sign the petition.

“It doesn’t make any difference whether they voted or not [in the last presidential election], they just have to be a registered voter, and if they’re not, they can fill out a voter registration card, and then sign it [petition],” she said.


Getting the signatures

Sjothun said that going door-to-door is not the way to go, because it’s too time-consuming and physically draining. Instead she is concentrating her efforts on trying to enlist the help of businesses and retailers to step up and help.

“If any businesses would like to have petitions in their shops, they can contact me through [Judge-Executive Rob [Rothenburger’s office, 633-1220],” she said. “And private citizens, I’ll take any volunteers I can get.”

Sjothun said the special election is scheduled for Dec. 16 pending a completed petition, and Perry has asked her to turn her petition in by mid-September so she has to have time to review it.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to take us to verify the petition,” Perry said. “She [Sjothun] has until the middle of September to get that petition turned in, we just have to verify whether each person is a registered voter.”

When asked if she would be allowed to make the effort again if she fails to garner enough signatures on her petition, Sjothun chuckled ruefully.

“I don’t know and I don’t to know.”

She said she wants people to realize that even if she gets enough names on the petition it does not mean it’s a done deal.

“I would like to emphasize that it’s just so that you can vote yes or no,” she said.

“It’s just to have the election; it’s not any more or less than that – you can vote either way. That way, the people in the county have an actual voice as to what they want.”