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Panel Seeks Recount On Ballots
November 14, 2006. By Rusty Garrett

In an attempt to dispel rumors of impropriety surrounding the Nov. 7 vote and recount, members of the Crawford County Election Commission voted Monday to recount the 1,700 paper ballots cast in the general election.

Commission Chairman Kenneth Chitwood proposed the recount at a special meeting of the commission Monday morning.
Election workers will conduct the recount, which will begin at 8 a.m. today. Chitwood said it will continue until they are finished, a task he estimated will take at least six hours. Commission members will be available for consultation or to answer questions but will not be involved in counting, Chitwood said.

Most of the paper ballots were cast when electronic voting machines used in the election failed or were without power.

Chitwood said numerous questions have been raised about the hand count, which began after the polls closed Tuesday and lasted until after 2 a.m. Wednesday. He said at that time workers were becoming fatigued and, realizing they were several hours from completing the work, he instructed them to go home and resume counting later that day.

Commission members said the ballots were locked up overnight at the courthouse and a police officer was on duty all night guarding them.

Still more questions about the count surfaced Thursday when poll workers checking vote totals against the number of ballots issued, discovered a discrepancy of about 300 votes in one of the polling precincts, Van Buren 1-1. A check of records showed that the numbers from one of the memory packs used to record votes in the electronic machines had not been added to the final, unofficial vote totals.

The votes have been added and the outcome of no races changed. However, according to revised totals, in four county races — that of Van Buren city attorney, District 10 justice of the peace and alderman races in Mulberry and Mountainburg — no more than 25 votes separate winners and losers.

Chitwood repeated assurances Monday that at no time were ballots or memory packs missing, uncounted or not accounted for.

He also pointed out that results that have been released are not official until the commission certifies them.

Certification won’t occur until the county receives some 27 absentee ballots that are still out and the commission rules on whether to accept 20 provisional ballots cast in the election. The absentee ballots are due at the courthouse Friday, Chitwood said.

Today’s recount — an arduous task, requiring workers to read and mark a tally sheet for each vote on the ballots — is a further cause of frustration among election officials. Prior to the election they were assured the template for the paper ballots they ordered would be suitable for electronic scanning and tabulation in counters provided by Election Software & Systems, the firm under contract to provide the state with election machines and equipment.

However, the software provided by ES&S does not read the marked ballots, requiring the manual count.

The template was identical to that used in earlier elections, where the machines worked properly, according to County Clerk Patti Hill. Hill and commission members said they have tried repeatedly to contact ES&S officials in the wake of the election and have so far not received any response to messages left on company answering machines.

Hill suggested a meeting be called between state election officials, the Arkansas Secretary of State and an executive with ES&S to discuss issues that have arisen in elections and the company’s contract with the state.

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