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Chairman Blames Delay In Election Results On Bad Luck  (AR)

Scarlet Sims   The Morning News   07 February 2008

BENTONVILLE - Too little staff, heavy voter turnout and a flat tire delayed tabulation of ballots in Benton County until nearly 2 a.m. during the presidential primaries on Tuesday.

"The election gods hate me," said Election Commission Chairman John Brown.

Commissioners worked into the early morning hours to move 40-pound voting machines and to double-check votes. Instead of releasing results immediately, Brown said the commission took extra time to double-check everything. Election results were released to reporters about 1:45 a.m.

Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Barbara McCoy said she was disappointed the process took so long but that she is glad the commission is being careful. McCoy stopped by to see the process after a Democratic watch party Tuesday.

Commissioners said Tuesday night they were trying to avoid a counting debacle like in 2006. That November, the commission released four different vote totals over the course of a week and several races' results changed, some more than once.

The lengthy time span for releasing results Tuesday night could have happened in any county, said John Logan Burrow, the Washington County Election Commission chairman. Washington County released its results about 9:30 p.m., but that was because nothing went wrong, he said.

"We were lucky we had no glitches or flaws to slow us down," Burrow said. "Maybe Bucky Crouch was with us last night."

Crouch, Washington County's longtime election coordinator, died Saturday at age 78.

Both Brown and Washington County Election Coordinator Nancy Varvil said there were problems with electronic voting machines not being "closed" properly so that results could be extracted. Poor-quality paper rolls and humidity caused machines to jam, they said.

Sometime after 11 p.m., Benton County commissioners realized some poll workers had failed to remove cartridges that had recorded electronic votes from assigned travel bags. Workers checked bags but about eight slipped through the checking process, and the cartridges hadn't been removed.

Mechanical problems came into play in Benton County when a truck hauling early voting machines from the county clerk's office to the commission office had a flat tire, Brown said.

The commission also needs more workers, Brown said. About 10 workers worked to process votes on machines and paper ballots, Brown said. Several workers worked more than 14 hours in a row.

Washington County had about 16 workers but also needs more, Burrow said.

Brown said the commission did not ask the county for funding for more workers because it wanted to stay within its budget. He did say more workers are needed.

"Poll workers do a good job and they work hard," Brown said.

McCoy said the commission is running more smoothly than in 2006.

"I think it's getting better," she said. "They were being super careful and that's good news too."

Commissioners are considering changes to try to smooth out the process, but Brown would not elaborate on what the changes might.

Commissioner Paul Morris suggested Tuesday that poll workers mark whether machines were used during the election.

Voters did not use several available machines, Brown said.

By The Numbers

High Turnout

Voters turned out in large numbers despite wet weather Tuesday. About 33,000 voted in Washington County and about 28,000 voted in Benton County. The turnout in Benton County represents more than 41 percent of registered voters.

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