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Voting blemished by minor glitches (AR)
Arkansas Democrat Gazette. November 6, 2008. BY EVIE BLAD

High voter turnout Tuesday strained local election systems, causing a candidate to question the integrity of results as precinct reports were printed Wednesday.

Two Benton County precincts showed more ballots cast than voters registered, according to a report generated at noon Wednesday by the county’s Election Commission and provided by a volunteer for Democrat Bill Williams, who lost the Benton County judge’s race to state Sen. Dave Bisbee, R-Rogers.

“Nothing that could have happened with these ballots would change the outcome of my race,” Williams said. “But people need to have faith that their ballot was counted as it was cast for the system to work.” The report shows in Precinct 5, which voted at the Decatur Municipal Building, 1, 223 voters cast ballots in a precinct that has 1, 155 registered voters.

In Precinct 2, which voted at the Sulphur Springs Commu- nity Building, 644 voters cast ballots in a precinct that has 639 registered voters.

“I can’t explain that,” said Lynn Chinn, a state-appointed election commissioner. “All I know is we were overwhelmed.” Telephone messages left for election coordinator Jim McCarthy were not returned Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, commission Chairman John M. Brown Jr. said the process went relatively smoothly, but poll workers had to call the makers of the county’s electronic machines for help counting votes.

Nearly 74 percent of the county’s 103, 683 voters cast ballots, the report indicated. Elections around the state drew record turnouts, largely attributed to interest in the presidential election and several ballot initiatives.

The traffic at the polls was obvious in county offices, Benton County Clerk Mary Lou Slinkard said. Poll workers were instructed to call the clerk’s office to qualify voters and send them to the proper voting place when they reported to the wrong precinct.

“Our phone rang off the hook all day,” Slinkard said.

The questionable results could be attributed to some poll workers allowing people to vote in the wrong precinct, she said. The clerk’s numbers of registered voters are sometimes higher than the commission’s, but they were still not as high as numbers of ballots cast in the precincts in question.

It takes the Election Commission about a week to certify results, Slinkard said.

Mismatched vote totals happened in the county’s 2006 election, in which suspicious numbers led to several recounts.

Williams said questions about the vote’s integrity came up Tuesday when election workers called the manufacturers of electronic voting machines.

“You create great resentment and suspicion when that happens, especially in close races,” he said.

Benton County, along with other Arkansas counties, uses Ivotronic machines, ranging in cost from $ 2, 800 to $ 3, 050, Brown said. The machines were purchased in 2005 using money provided by the federal government through the Help America Vote Act.

“I don’t intend to ask the Quorum Court to ask for money to buy new machines,” Brown said. Calls to the machines’ manufacturer shouldn’t create suspicion about results, he said. “I’d rather be safe than sorry and just make a call to say, ‘ Hey, are we doing this right ?’” Brown said. Neighboring counties reported very few problems with their machines, aside from a few paper jams in a spool that provides a paper backup for electronic votes. Early voting drew nearly 20 percent of Madison County’s registered voters, according to County Clerk Feron Ledbetter. Washington County also reported a record turnout, with 68, 685 of the county’s 100, 243 voters coming to the polls.

To contact this reporter: eblad@arkansasonline. com


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