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Commission Releases Fourth Version Of Results
Files Found In Back Room Had Never Been Counted
By Michelle Burhenn
The Morning News

BENTONVILLE Benton County election commissioners found two electronic files Wednesday containing ballots that had never been counted. Those ballots, left in bags in the back room of the Election Commission's office, have changed the outcome of one close race.

The election commission released a fourth set of results for two races Thursday, but stopped short of a recount.

The new totals helped Janette Lasater make up the six votes needed to bring her into a tie with Eric Hausserman in the Lowell city clerk race. They now each have 444 votes.

Jim McCarthy, election coordinator, explained Thursday that instead of recounting the paper ballots again, the commission relied on the totals from Monday and verified the electronic ballots using the machine's audit log. To get the new results, the commission added the provisional, absentee and newly discovered ballots. The Secretary of State's office recommends using the audit log to verify electronic ballots and counting the paper ballots on the optical scan machine in the event of a recount.

Lasater and Cheryl Murphy, Democratic candidate for District 2 justice of the peace, both asked Wednesday for a recount of their respective races. Uncertainty has surrounded Benton County's election results for the past week as the election commission has posted three separate results because of computer glitches and human error. The election commission released the third set of results Monday.

Robbyn Tumey and Barbara McCoy, who represented Murphy because she had work commitments, questioned whether the election commission had fulfilled her recount request.

McCarthy said the commission only was counting what had changed since Monday.

"We were all here when we counted the votes (on Monday)," McCarthy said. "What's the point of counting them again?"

Both Murphy and Lasater said they expected the paper ballots to be recounted by the scanning machine when they asked for their recounts. Lasater said she did not know whether she was satisfied with Thursday's results.

"I'm so ready for this all to be done and to be over with, but I really don't know," she said.

Lasater was not at the Election Commission office on Thursday to hear the results because she said she was never notified her request had been granted.

"I was not aware that they were doing it," she said. "I would have been there. I was off today."

Commissioners found the electronic files Wednesday after noticing Monday's results showed an unlikely scenario. The report showed no electronic ballots had been used in two precincts: 79 at the First Baptist Church in Lowell and 80 at the Bethel Heights Fire Station.

The commissioners found the electronic files in the bags precinct workers use on election night to turn in items to the commission. The files, which contained votes from the precincts' electronic voting machines, had never been counted, McCarthy said. He said he is confident the election commission has accounted for every ballot.

The newly discovered ballots accounted for 88 votes in the justice of the peace race and six votes in the Lowell city clerk race.

Today is the last day any absentee ballots received can count, McCarthy said. The Election Commission will review any ballots received today to determine if they affect the city clerk race. If not, state law requires the candidates draw lots to earn a spot on the run-off ballot against Beverly Keown, who now has 451 votes.

Hausserman did not pick up any votes from the new ballots reviewed Thursday.

"We always say that every vote counts," he said. "Well, it's true."

McCoy, chairwoman of the Benton County Democratic Party, said she was satisfied to know that inconsistencies had been reconciled. She said she hoped Benton County's experience would show lawmakers election workers need help.

"Even though it's been painful, I think it gives us a lot of meat to go to the Quorum Court, the Legislature and some of these higher bodies and say 'Look, you've got to fix this,'" she said.

The election commission will not require Lasater or Murphy to pay the 25 cents-per-vote fee to recount the ballots because of the electronic files that had not been counted. McCarthy said state law allows the commission to certify the ballots on Wednesday, except for the proposed constitutional amendment and the referred question, which will have to be certified today. Early voting in the run-off election should start Monday, he said. It was scheduled to begin Nov. 13.

Results, Results, Results

The election commission has now reported four totals in the races for District 2 Justice of the Peace and Lowell city clerk.

Nov. 7 Nov. 9 Nov. 13 Nov. 16

Justice of the Peace

Cheryl Murphy 1,019 2,154 1,411 1,453

Frank Winscott 1,003 2,191 1.484 1,535

Lowell City Clerk

Beverly Keown 381 516 447 451

Janette Lasater 364 533 438 444

Eric Hausserman 381 509 444 444

Source: Staff Report

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