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Friday, June 11, 2010

Stone County election questions

Posted By on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 5:41 PM

You thought the race for Stone County sheriff was over? Think again.

Interesting account of the doings from Tyler Henderson of Mountain View, a third-year law student at UALR who's been following the proceedings closely. Three recounts. Apparent illegal crossover voting. And more. And no certified winner yet.

E-MAIL FROM TYLER HENDERSON

After a primary runoff that ended in a tie, a recount that revealed a winner by 5 votes, and the discovery of votes that weren't included in the recount, the Democratic nomination for Sheriff in Stone County is again locked in a tie. The Stone County Election Commission met Friday morning at 9AM to discuss what to do about ballots that were discovered after the recount. The recount, held on Thursday, revealed that incumbent Sheriff Todd Hudspeth had bested challenger Lance Bonds by a mere 5 votes, 1370 to 1365. The original tally for the runoff showed both men to be tied with 1383 votes each.


So what happened to the missing 31 votes? It turns out that the ballots from one of the electronic voting machines had been included in the original count, but not the recount. The addition of the missing ballots reinstated the tie. No action was taken at that time, although it was suggested that, according to the state election code, the two opponents would have to "draw lots" by agreeing to a coin toss or similar tie-breaker. That option was not attractive to either candidate. The Commission also suggested that a winner might be appointed by the Stone County Democratic Committee, but that option was also rejected.


The Election Commission decided to met again at 3PM, a meeting that was observed by a packed courtroom. Mr. Lance A. Wright, deputy prosecutor for the 16th Judicial District, which includes Stone County, was present on behalf of Prosecutor Don McSpadden. Commissioner Vernon Humphries began by naming several discrepancies that had been discovered in the runoff, including one allegation of bribery and several reports of "crossover" voting in the Democratic primary by voters who had originally cast ballots in the Republican primary. Mr. White informed the commission that the prosecutor's office had already begun looking into the "crossover" votes to determine whether those allegations were true. Mr. Humphries moved to formally refer the matter to the prosecutor's office.


The motion did not obtain a second originally, but the chairman of the 3-member commission, Bob Turner, inquired as to whether he was allowed to provide a second. Mr. Wright replied that he didn't think Robert's Rules of Order Would Allow that, but Mr. Humphries interjected that the commission had never adopted Robert's Rules. Upon that, Mr. Turner seconded the motion. There was discussion about how the prosecutor's office would investigate the "crossover" voters; Mr. Humphries suggested that, where probable cause was present to suspect a person had cross-voted, that person be subpeoned by the prosecutor's office. Mr. Wright informed the commission that such an "crossover" voting was a criminal act under state election law, punishable as a Class A misdemeanor, but that it might be problematic to compel a person to testify about how they voted. The intent was that crossover votes would be excluded from the final tally. After some more discussion, the original motion was passed.


Mrs. Betty Allred then asked Wright if another election could be held. Wright explained that the Secretary of State has said that is not an option; that under Ark. Code Sec. 7-7-104, there is no provision to allow for another election. Wright commented on the difficulty of the situation and that the code did not specifically address this unique situation, and that ultimately the decision might be one for the courts. Wright explained that 7-7-104, if read literally, says that the parties involved might draw lots or a vacancy for the nomination would be declared. White also commented that the Election Commission might not be able to wait on the prosecutor's office to finish it's investigation before the vote would need to be certified, and that any prosecutorial findings might not ultimately help the commission reach a decision on whether or not to certify the vote. Wright suggested that the commission delay any decision to certify the vote and allow for more public input, perhaps advertising for another meeting in the local newspaper. At that point, Mr. Humphries got up and delivered what was presumably a list of voters and which primary they had voted in to a reporter for the local newspaper, telling the crowd that since who voted was a matter of public record, the newspaper could print the names of voters and what primary they voted in, and those who crossed over could voluntarily come forward and confess.


Mr. Humphries noted that, if the commission had the power to certify a vote, it was implied that it had the power not to certify as well. Wright mentioned that the Ark. State Police would be assisting with the investigation. The Commission discussed when they would need to certify the vote by to stay in compliance; Wright noted they might certify the tie, or perform another recount and then certify. Whatever the commission's decision, White again suggested that it be delayed until next week. Upon that, the Election Commission decided to adjourn the meeting and resume discussion at 9AM on Monday morning, to give both the candidates and the prosecutor's office time to better research all issues and options.

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