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Questions surround election results

By Annette Beard and Chad Eiler Staff writer // chade@nwanews.com

Posted on Saturday, November 11, 2006

BENTON COUNTY — The results of several races from Tuesday’s election are still in question, frustrating candidates and party leaders across the county.

In Pea Ridge, ballots were to be counted again Friday after numbers released by the Benton County Election Commission on Thursday were greater than the number of residents in the city.

Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree said he believed there were between 1, 560 and 1, 600 registered voters in Pea Ridge.

“ That’s every man, woman and child in Pea Ridge voting, ” said Jerry Burton, candidate for mayor.

Burton said he knew he had lost the race to incumbent Jackie Crabtree but said he didn’t want to see the results certified with inaccurate numbers.

Delores Hall, precinct sheriff, said the numbers were wrong. She said there were 1, 122 votes cast in the Pea Ridge precinct. Ballots were available at Precinct 69 in Pea Ridge at the Emergency Services Building for city, county and some Little Flock voters.

Hall said she had talked to Election Coordinator Jim McCarthy and said he told her that the numbers were apparently doubled and that he would recount the Pea Ridge ballots.

For the first time in 40 years, the ballot box in Pea Ridge filled to capacity, and Hall called for another box about 5: 30 p. m.

“ The most important thing is the ballots. I didn’t want those just laying around, ” she said.

There was only one box into which all three categories of ballots were cast.

In Garfield, Mayor Laura Hamilton said she thought the first numbers were fairly low, but Friday’s numbers were entirely too high. She said there were 210 registered voters in Garfield in 2005. Hamilton said the changing vote counts had changed the outcome of one of the alderman races.

Attempts by The Daily Record to contact McCarthy by cell phone failed. Each time, a recording stated that the voice-mail box to his phone was full, ending the calls.

Corrected election results released by the Benton County Election Commission on Thursday afternoon showed voter turnout dramatically increased from original results. Results released early Wednesday morning showed that 47, 134 of the approximately 95, 900 registered voters in the county cast ballots. That is a 49 percent turnout.

Results released Thursday showed that 79, 331 ballots were cast — for an 83 percent voter turnout.

The difference in results was caused by errors that occurred election night, when election data was transferred from the Election Commission computer system to a system used to show results during the watch party at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in Bentonville. The commission attempted to simultaneously feed results from the two voting methods — electronic ballots and paper ballots — so that precinct totals would be complete.

“ What we didn’t know was the fact that it skewed the numbers, ” Election Coordinator Jim McCarthy said at a news conference Thursday. “ We didn’t find that out until the next morning. ”

The Election Commission spent all day Wednesday clearing out the election data and reloading it into the computer system.

Robbyn Tumey, chairwoman of the Benton County Democratic Party, said she couldn’t reach McCarthy or any other government entity Friday — offices were closed in honor of Veterans Day. She said she hoped the Election Commission would realize the need for a total recount, and said she is considering requesting a stay of the election results if the commission doesn’t have a recount.

Tumey said McCarthy traveled to Little Rock, taking voting data to Election Systems & Software.

“ We’re gong to defer that decision until Jim gets back from Little Rock and takes the data to ES & S, ” Tumey said Friday. “(I ) hope the commission will recognize there’s something fundamentally wrong and there’ll be a total recount. When the numbers went from 44 percent to 83 percent, I don’t understand why something didn’t go ding, ding, ding.

“ With three different election results, this is about clear and transparent elections for everybody, and with three different election results,... I don’t think we’d be really confident. I don’t think anybody should be really confident (about the latest results ), ” Tumey said.

“ I think this is a bipartisan issue. My position in the county for the last 10 years was as a numbers person, ” Tumey said. “ The Benton County Democratic Committee stands behind its candidates. In the JP District 2 race, the last numbers showed some 91. 76 percent participated in the vote. ” She said average numbers for a nonpresidential election usually fall around 55 percent.

Cheryl Murphy, a University of Arkansas professor running as a Democrat for justice of the peace District 2, said nothing short of a complete recount in her district will right this wrong. On Wednesday, Murphy was declared the winner. After Thursday’s retooling, her opponent, Frank Winscott, was declared the new winner.

“ I want a hand recount for my district. I can’t buy into the fact that 80 percent of the district voted in this election, ” Murphy said.

In the past, she said, the district usually yields a 30 to 40 percent turnout and on occasion has topped 50 percent.

“ No where in the country, even in rabid political environments, do you see an 82 percent turnout (that was reported by the commission ), ” Murphy said.

Murphy said she believes there was no ill intent on the part of the commission, but the lack of information being provided to the candidates and general public has made this more difficult than it needs to be.

“ One of the frustrations has been getting information from people. I can’t even look and compare the new numbers, ” Murphy said. “ There is nowhere to obtain the numbers. If you were not at the press conference (Thursday ), you could not obtain the numbers. I had to contact the press to find out what the numbers are. As a candidate, it’s extremely frustrating because there’s nowhere to turn. ”

If the commission decides not to recount her district race, Murphy said, she will take legal action.

“ If they don’t recount, it’s something I feel I have to pursue, ” Murphy said.

To the south, using essentially the same process, things in Washington County went relatively smoothly.

Washington County Election Commissioner John Logan Burrow said the process was held up a little Tuesday night while workers tallied early voting results, but otherwise, there were no problems with the electronic or paper ballots.

“ From then on, it was smooth sailing, ” Burrow said. “ You just never know when you’re going to have problems. ”

As an example, he said, the turnout in the Farmington precinct was more than had been estimated, and the 1, 800 people who voted had the commission scrambling for more ballots.

“ It’s truly an inexact science. This is a business you survive, not one (in which ) you triumph, ” Burrow said.

While there were no problems with the electronic machines, Burrow said he’s more comfortable with the paper system.

“ I’m very fond of the paper ballots. As a commissioner, paper is the optimum method for voting, ” Burrow said. “ You have a true artifact of the vote that you can see and feel. ”

Reporter Gary Lookadoo contributed to this story. The Numbers Game

Election results released in Friday’s Benton County Daily Record totaled 3, 880 votes in the Pea Ridge mayoral race, 3, 378 in the Ward 1 alderman race and 3, 496 in the Ward 2 alderman race.

Pea Ridge numbers released Friday were:


Jackie Crabtree 2, 387

Jerry Burton 1, 493

Alderman Ward 1 Position 2

Michael A. Botson 1, 341

Robert “ Bob ” Cottingham 2, 155

Alderman Ward 2 Position 2

Martin Marler 876

Boyd B. McNiel 667

Guary Morgan 1, 167

Robert William Mardis 668

The numbers released Wednesday were:


Jackie Crabtree 895

Jerry Burton 562

Alderman Ward 1 Position 2

Michael A. Botson 514

Robert (Bob ) Cottingham 799

Alderman Ward 2 Position 2

Martin Marler 334

Boyd B. McNiel 251

Guary Morgan 447

Robert William Mardis 255

Numbers for Garfield races released Friday were:


John Raines 75

Laura L. Hamilton 102

Alderman Position 1

Dale D. Watkins 97

Gary R. Eckel 60

Alderman Position 4

Warren H. Finch 69

Eddie Cooper 93

Wednesday’s numbers were:


John Raines 28

Laura L. Hamilton 44

Alderman Position 1

Dale D. Watkins 42

Gary R. Eckel 24

Alderman Position 4

Warren H. Finch 30

Eddie Cooper 38

District 2 justice of the peace

Wednesday’s numbers

Cheryl Murphy (D ) 1, 019

Frank Winscott (R ) 1, 003

Write-in 33

Friday’s numbers

Cheryl Murphy (D ) 2, 154

Frank Winscott (R ) 2, 191

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