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Election Results Continue To Puzzle
This article was published on Friday, November 10, 2006 11:02 PM CST in News
By Michelle Burhenn
The Morning News

  BENTONVILLE Unprecedented voter turnout in Benton County has again called into question the results of Tuesday's general election.

After the Election Commission reviewed the votes Wednesday, the turnout jumped from 49 percent to 83 percent. That catapulted Benton County to the top of the turnout heap, according to totals from Secretary of State's Web site on Friday. The county with the second-highest turnout was Madison County with 64 percent.

The observance of Veterans Day on Friday made it impossible to get many answers from county officials.

Robbyn Tumey, former chairwoman of the Benton County Democratic Party, went to the Election Commission office on Friday to speak with Jim McCarthy, election coordinator. Tumey worked on the media plan for Cheryl Murphy, District 2 justice of the peace candidate. Revised results released Thursday showed Murphy had lost her race to Republican Frank Winscott. Tuesday's results first showed she was winning and later showed she would face a runoff with Winscott.

Tumey said she is prepared to file an injunction to stop the Election Commission from certifying the election. She said she and McCarthy looked over the results together. Some, such as a Rogers precinct with more than 100 percent voter turnout, alarmed both of them. He then gathered the voting system's computer disks and flash drives and told her he was headed to the Election Systems & Software office in Little Rock, she said.

Election Systems & Software has a statewide contract to provide voting machines.

Calls to Jim McCarthy's cell phone went straight to voicemail, which was full. An employee who answered the telephone at the Election Systems & Software office in Little Rock said he could not speak to the media. Election Systems & Software media representatives in Omaha, Neb., where the company is based, said they were not aware of the situation and could not comment.

Murphy said the unprecedented turnout caused her and some others to question the latest election results.

In her district alone, a 92 percent turnout was recorded, she said. That just doesn't happen in District 2, which is rural, divided by Beaver Lake and generally has a lower turnout, she said.

"So to jump to an 80 percent turnout, I question," she said. "I heavily question."

A close analysis of Thursday's results show in two races, more people voted in a mayoral race than live in the town, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's July 2005 estimates. In Gateway, a town of 122 people, 199 votes were cast in an uncontested mayoral race. In the Pea Ridge, 3,997 votes were cast in a contested mayor's race for the city of 3,344 people.

Lynn Chinn, Democratic election commissioner, said he was not able to reach McCarthy on Friday and had not heard of the latest apparent problems with the election results.

A turnout of more than 80 percent is exceptional even for a hotly contest presidential election, said Andrew Dowdle, assistant professor of political science at University of Arkansas. He pointed out Idaho made news this week with 63 percent voter turnout in a midterm election.

"An understatement is that (83 percent) is a little high in terms of a midterm election," said Dowdle, who specializes in elections and campaigns. "Eighty-three percent is mathematically possible, but again, just something that would be kind of an eye-popping figure."

The commission decided to review the election results after noticing problems, such as precincts with unusually low turnout.

The commission announced the results of its review of results Thursday afternoon, after working until 3 a.m. that morning to fix a computer problem that threw out tabulated votes as new votes were entered on election night. McCarthy said Thursday the Election Commission's attempt to share real-time results with partygoers at the Clarion Hotel in Bentonville caused the glitch.

The retabulated results changed the outcome of eight contests, mostly in tight races or races with few votes cast.

The revised Thursday report said 79,331 of 95,900 registered voters, or 83 percent, cast ballots. The original results released on election night said 47,134 voters, or 49 percent, cast ballots.

Early voting is scheduled to start Monday for the Nov. 28 runoff.

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