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Ballot woes plague election 2006

Helena Daily World Staff Writer   23 May 2006

Votes from the Preferential Primary will not be counted until possibly as late as Thursday according to the Phillips County Election Commission.

Ashley Higgins, commission attorney, Linda Broome, election coordinator, Fran Anderson, Republican commissioner, Wesley Freemyer, Democratic commissioner, and Pat Roberson, assistant to Broome, met in an emergency meeting of the election commission late Tuesday afternoon. They conducted a telephone conference with Ken Humphries, the state Election Commission's attorney, to formulate "plan A" and "plan B" to handle the voting problem.

According to Broome, the information contained on the ballots pertaining to the candidates - paper and electronic - are correct. However, the bar code at the bottom of the ballot was printed incorrectly. The new electronic voting system, Ivotronic, does not have the correct programming to read the paper ballots.

Plan A calls for the state Election Commission to reprogram the Personal Electronic Ballot to read the existing bar code at the bottom of the Phillips County ballot instead of reprinting ballots. At this late stage, reprinting the ballots is out of the question. The PCEC was not informed of the printing error until Monday evening, less than 24 hours before regular voting began.

The paper ballots would have been counted by the old counting method, but the vendor never sent the proper computer chips for the machine. Now, the machine and the PEB must be reprogrammed to accept the bar code.

According to Humphries, the reprogramming process could take eight to 10 hours, and must be done by the vender in Omaha, Nebraska - Electronic Systems and Software.

If Plan A does not work, Broome and the poll workers have scheduled a manual ion of votes into the electronic system. The Election Commission plans to have all 38 machines set up with three people manning each machine. They will physically take each ballot and place the votes into the device. Then, the device can be plugged into the communications pack, and be tabulated in that manner.

The Election Commission also must sort the early and absentee ballots in each precinct. The vender must start from ground zero to reprogram the PEB and obtaining a chip for the old tabulating machine that was never sent.

Broome plans to have citizens in place in case Plan A does not work. No date or time was given for the final tally, but election officials assume the process of reprogramming, burning, and setting up plans A and B may take until Thursday. ES & S is re-burning 18 PEBs for the Phillips County precincts.

Each county in Arkansas seems to be having some small difficulties, but according to Ann Clemmons of the Secretary of State's Office, only one other county was having problems similar to Phillips County, and those reports came from Cleburne County.

"We are assisting both counties to help solve the problem as soon as possible," stated Clemmons.

She also stated that results for the local races would be affected but it may or may not change the outcome of the state races. She also commented that the state Election Commission expected the tabulations to be slower because of the new equipment.

The PCEC did not know how long it would take to execute Plan A or Plan B. Early voting turned up about 2,000 ballots. About 30 percent of the county's eligible voters were expected to turn out for the primary.

The Phillips County Election Commission will know more about the situation by noon today and will pass on additional information.

Broome and the Phillips County Election Commission stressed to the public that the ballots would be locked in a secure location in the Phillips County Courthouse to avoid tampering.

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