Benton County To Recount Votes
Inspection Could Affect Every Race
The Morning News By Michelle Burhenn November 8, 2006
BENTONVILLE The election isn't over for Benton County.
Election coordinator Jim McCarthy said late Wednesday afternoon a possible computer error with vendor Election Systems & Software will force election workers to examine every ballot again.
He said he hopes to have final, unofficial results late Thursday. The commission will work with the vendor to get accurate results.
"We have to do it," McCarthy said. "We're not going to be a part of anything that is wrong. We're going back to square one and rebuilding it."
McCarthy said some indicators from the election results Tuesday led him to wonder whether the summary reports from voting machines reflected actual vote totals. He said he did not want to elaborate on what those indicators were. A recount could affect every race, he said.
Candidates were shocked by the news that results are in question.
Bentonville Mayor Terry Coberly, who appeared to have lost her re-election bid Tuesday, took more than a minute to collect her thoughts.
Unofficial results released early Wednesday morning showed her challenger, Alderman Bob McCaslin, with 3,174 votes (55 percent) to Coberly's 2,561 (45 percent).
"I don't understand," she finally said. "I mean, last night it didn't seem like the numbers were right, so I had some questions. But I had tried to accept it today and it's been hard. My initial gut reaction is that I want it be over."
Democrat Joe Chappelle, who trailed Republican County Judge Gary D. Black by about 4,000 votes in his bid for that seat, joked that he had a lot of ground to make up. He also questioned the numbers Tuesday.
"Who knows what'll happen," he said. "It may change 200 votes. It may change 2,000 votes. I don't think it'll change 4,000 votes, though. I don't think that's going to happen in a recount. You would hope not. You would hope that the system is better than that."
Coberly and Chappelle's opponents, apparent winners McCaslin and Black, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
The possible glitch might help explain lower than expected turnouts in some county races. For example, 5,738 people voted in the Bentonville mayoral race in 2002, three more than in 2006. Lowell also saw lower turnout than expected, even though both cities have grown since the last midterm election.
In Benton County, 47,134 of 95,900 registered voters cast ballots, according to early returns the commission reported Tuesday. That turnout, 49 percent, is actually lower than the 53 percent of voters who turned out for the 2002 midterm election, despite a 9-percent increase in registered voters. A recount could affect those numbers.
McCarthy said the commission must work fast in order to prepare runoff ballots that could be ready Monday for early voters. In addition to the total recount, a stack of provisional ballots had yet to be counted, he said.
Earlier Wednesday, it appeared the District 2 justice of the peace race between Republican Frank Winscott and Democrat Cheryl Murphy hinged on provisional ballots and write-in votes. Tuesday night a run-off seemed likely.
With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Murphy had 1,019 votes to Winscott's 1,003. Additionally, 33 write-in votes were cast, which left Murphy with 49.59 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent needed to win.
But, at the end of Wednesday, both candidates did not know what to expect.
"If that's what he needs to do, I want him to do it right," Winscott said. "I want him to take time to get a good, clean count. I'm anxious for him to do it as soon as possible, and I'm sure he's working toward that end."
Murphy agreed, saying the commission should take as much time as needed.
"I applaud Jim (McCarthy) for taking that step to make sure every vote counts," she said. "I know it's not a popular decision with most, but I'm glad he did it."
County Clerk Mary L. Slinkard said before the announcement Wednesday her office also experienced problems but her staff would work with the commission to make the Nov. 28 runoff smoother.
"I'm not putting blame on anybody, please understand," she said. "I think it was the complete process. It's that old saying, 'Whatever goes into the computer comes out.'"
Election Systems & Software holds a $15.9 million contract to institute electronic voting statewide, as mandated under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
After a multitude of problems surfaced in the May primary election including software glitches and late-arriving equipment representatives of Election Systems & Software told legislators they'd make corrections in time for November's general election.
Last month, the company was late mailing ballots to several Arkansas counties, including Benton County.