A question for the secretary of state on faulty ballot UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A question for the secretary of state on faulty ballot UPDATE

Posted By on Sat, Mar 5, 2016 at 7:37 AM

KAIT in Jonesboro reported the other day that some election ballots in Greene County contained a judicial election for which voters weren't eligible to cast ballots.

The ballots for some voters included a so-called judicial subdistrict, a judgeship in a district drawn to have a predominantly black population. These were created as a result of a lawsuit over a lack of minority representation on the bench. But there is no subdistrict in Greene County.

Said KAIT:

According to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, some of the races for Circuit Court Judge Sub-Districts were included on ballots outside of the proper precinct.

“Fortunately, this problem was noticed prior to the election,” said Chris Powell, press manager for the Arkansas Secretary of State.

Powell said the issue was not caught in time to remove the races from every ballot.

“Even though ballots were cast in these judicial races outside of their sub-district, only ballots from precincts lying within the sub-district were tabulated,” Powell said in an email to Region 8 News.

The article doesn't address a question raised by a reader in a letter to Secretary of State Mark Martin that was copied to me. 

Don't the people of Arkansas deserve some explanation of how your office made such a major blunder by putting Circuit Judge races in sub-districts on ballots in counties which were not even remotely included in those sub-districts?

Fair question. I've put that question to Powell as well.

PS: this sub district race also erroneously turned up in Craighead County. Election Day, vote totals at the outset included votes from non-qualifying precincts, a correspondent writes. 

Also so erroneous ballots turned up in the 1st judicial district as well, a lawyer reports. 

UPDATE: Chris Powell of the secretary of state's office provided this response Monday, March 7. The office was in error, but he insisted it was caught in time to prevent problems.

The issue is essentially the same issue as in the Presidential ballots: coding and printing take place very early in the process in order to accommodate military and overseas absentees. Names or races placed on the ballot cannot be changed after certain deadlines pass. As part of a regular review of ballots and races, the “over-inclusion” issue was identified and resolved at the tabulation level. The Secretary of State’s Office over-included the voters involved, and in further review, realized the eligible pool of voters should have been smaller. There are multiple reasons for the over-inclusion initially: First, and foremost, a well-respected incumbent who has held the seat since 2000, has decided to retire at the end of his current term (December 31, 2016). The incumbent was unopposed in 2004 and 2010 and therefore, the race did not have to be coded for the ballot. Second, a constitutional amendment affecting judges was approved in 2000. Third, the “Hunt Degree” was amended in 2002. Fourth, redistricting took place in 2011-12 for many positions, but Clerks were required to preserve the 2002 amended “Hunt Decree” sub-district lines separately. Fifth, judicial races were moved from County filing to filing with the Secretary of State in 2013 (effective with the 2014 election cycle). And, finally, there has been significant turnover of the counties involved, of the election commissions involved, and , obviously at the Secretary of State’s Office since 2002. Notwithstanding these many changes, and with the diligent effort of county election officials, election commissioners, and the Administrative Office of the Courts, the over-inclusion was identified in a timely manner, those precincts who should not have had the race on their ballots were identified and screened out in the tabulation process, and the race was effectively run as intended. The Secretary of State’s Office does want to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved for their patience and diligence.

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