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Third time’s a charm?

By Jennifer Turner Staff Writer // jennifert@nwanews.com

Posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

BENTONVILLE — For the third time in less than a week, the Benton County Election Commission released “ final” election results for Benton County.

“ This is the final final, ” Election Coordinator Jim McCarthy said as he handed the first copy of the third version of election results to Election Commissioner Russ Odell on Monday afternoon.

With help from a consultant for Elections Systems and Software, the Commission recounted every paper ballot from last Tuesday’s general election.

The latest election results show that 48, 681 of 95, 900 registered voters cast a ballot in the election — 50. 76 percent. Results released the night of the election showed voter turnout at 49 percent. Results released Thursday showed voter turnout at 83 percent.

After McCarthy determined Wednesday that election results released the night of the election seemed inaccurate, the Commission reloaded all of the electronic data.

Paper ballots are fed through a computer that scans the ballots and saves the data to a disk. Electronic voting machines have individual disks that save data from each machine. All disks are tallied on another computer system.

But numbers released after the reload seemed way too high — more than 100 percent voter turnout in some precincts.

“ Now we’re back down to a realistic number, ” McCarthy said Monday.

Two problems occurred election night, McCarthy explained. First, data was skewed when employees from the Benton County information services department attempted to send a live feed of election results to a watch party at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in Bentonville.

That snafu caused some votes to be lost in the reporting process.

At the same time, election workers feeding paper ballots through scanning machines failed to clear the electronic files the night of the election. Extra votes were added to the totals.

“ The only way we could justify it was to recount all of the ballots, ” McCarthy said. Only paper ballots were recounted; ballots cast on electronic voting machines were not.

McCarthy said the errors were not caused by ES & S representatives or software. ES & S is the company that provided the scanners and touchscreen voting machines that Benton County now uses to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

“ The problem was human error, ” he said. “ We just had people that weren’t trained well. I admit it; I let it happen. ”

A few candidates waited in the Election Commission office Monday morning for the latest results.

“ I got in the race, ” Lowell City Clerk candidate Eric Hausserman said with a smile when Odell read the new election results aloud Monday morning. Hausserman will be in a runoff with Beverly Keown, who received 447 votes. Hausserman received 444, and Janette Lasater received 438.

Early voting for the runoff, set for Nov. 28, began Monday, but with no final election results, ballots had not yet been made.

“ I want to know the facts, ” Hausserman said a few hours earlier while he waited for the recount to be complete. “ We’ve fought long enough that we have the right to know. It does not have anything to do with politics or political parties. ”

By Monday afternoon, Democratic candidate Cheryl Murphy had not yet decided if she would ask for a formal recount of all ballots in the District 2 justice of the peace race.

According to the first results released, Murphy led the race. In the last two versions of results, her opponent, Frank Winscott, won the race.

“ I have the data I need to look at, ” Murphy said Monday at the Election Commission office. “ I’m going to go home and crunch the numbers. Unless I’m seeing huge anomalies, I’m saying congratulations to Frank. ”

Ret Miles, chairman of the Republican Party in Benton County, urged election commissioners to use clearly defined terms and consistent language to explain the complicated technical issues that led to errors in reporting.

“ I think they gave the best explanation they could give, ” Miles said. “ But I want people to be comfortable with the new (voting ) process, and they aren’t going to be comfortable with it if they don’t understand it. ”

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