It was revealed at a meeting of the Union County Quorum Court last week that one race in last year’s elections is under investigation by the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners due to a lack of votes cast.
Additionally, Union County Clerk Shannon Phillips told Justices of the Peace that training on new voting machines, which were delivered to the county in February, has been neglected by the Union County Election Commission.
“I think there needs to be some kind of accountability,” Phillips said. “I think the Quorum Court should request some kind of accountability because you’re over our finances and you control a lot with the county and somebody has to step in.”
Midterm elections were held last year, with primaries in May and the general election in November.
The race for District 1 JP, between incumbent JP Mike Dumas and former JP Steven Ward, was close, with only 32 votes making the difference. Phillips said at two polling places, very few votes were cast in that race, raising eyebrows.
“We’ve had questions from the State Board of Election Commissioners about a race that was held last year and the lack of votes at a couple of the polling sites,” Phillips said. “The new equipment will eliminate the problem we had this past year. That probably doesn’t make that candidate feel any better, but going forward it will [not happen].”
The first location was the Ward 4 polling location at the Municipal Auditorium; the other location was country box 6, at Wyatt Baptist Church. At the auditorium, three votes in that JP race were collected; no votes were collected in that race from Wyatt Baptist Church.
Election commission chairman Kermit Parks said he could only speculate as to what happened at those polling sites at this point, though he did emphasize the new voting machines, which can prevent similar issues from occurring.
“I can think of one of two things. It’s not the first time I’ve heard a complaint that ‘my votes weren’t counted,’ but sometimes people tell you they’re going to vote for you that didn’t. I don’t know if that’s a fact,” Parks said. “The other thing is – on the old machines, at any one voting station, you might have two or three different combinations of who a person can vote for, so it could’ve been that one of the poll workers was not setting a machine correctly. But as far as knowing anything for sure, all we can do is speculate.”
Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners Director Daniel Schultz confirmed that a state investigation into the race was currently being undertaken, noting that the investigation is nearing its completion.
Schultz could not reveal any details of the investigation or talk about the original complaint that spurred the investigation. He said the state board is looking into what caused the voting issue. Consequences for any election laws broken could range from a letter of reprimand, instruction on improving elections in Union County and/or a fine.
“The state board doesn’t have the legal authority to alter the outcome of the election, change the election, call a new election. That’s not anything that happens here,” Schultz said. “What we do is to, if someone brings an issue to our attention, we’ll look into it and try to take appropriate action to see that no such problem reoccurs in the future.”
Parks said he, the other election commissioners and Phillips have received questionnaires from the state board, which they have all since returned.
“It’s unfortunate because it was a close race,” Parks said. “I have no thoughts whatsoever that anybody intentionally, that I know of, did anything wrong.”
Union County Judge Mike Loftin also noted that he had trouble coordinating with the local election commission on paperwork that would help the county be reimbursed for last year’s primary elections.
“We finally got it in after the deadline, and with a little begging and pleading … they agreed to pay,” Loftin said.
The county has not received the $40,000 reimbursement yet, but expects it in October. Shultz said it is common for counties to return their reimbursement paperwork late.
Phillips also reported several issues she thought might affect today’s school board election in Parkers Chapel.
There is one contested race for Parkers Chapel’s School Board, meaning only one polling place was necessary for the election. Early voting took place at the Union County Courthouse, where it was administrated by county clerk office staff. Voting for today’s election will take place at the Parkers Chapel High School gym from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Phillips expressed concern with a lack of training, both for poll workers and the commissioners themselves, with the new voting machines the county is now using in elections. This will be the first election where the new machines are used, and, as of Thursday, no poll worker training sessions had been held since their original delivery.
“Poll workers are going to need some training,” Phillips said. “Next year being a presidential [election] year, it’s going to be crucial that your poll workers are well trained and understand the equipment and their responsibilities.”
Phillips also said when the machines were originally delivered, only one election commissioner was able to stay throughout the entire day for training, while a second commissioner came and went. Parks was unable to attend, he said, due to a family situation outside of Arkansas.
Parks said a poll worker training was held Monday, with two election commissioners (including himself) and three new poll workers. With only one polling place, Parks said that should be enough people.
“There’s only one poll open … there was five of us there,” Parks said.
He noted that all the election commissioners were able to see a demonstration of the machines last year when they were originally purchased. Parks concluded that the issues mentioned during the Quorum Court meeting should not affect today’s election.
“It’s not as if the election commission is unaware of what’s been going on, because we’ve been there from the very beginning,” Parks said. “It’s not as if we’re out of tune, out of touch and don’t know what’s going on.”
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or [email protected].