Only ‘minor problems’ in election, officials say

Faulkner County election officials made it through election night with only one snag on Tuesday, apparently caused by glitches officials said were beyond their control.

Unofficial results released on Tuesday night were complete save for the 312 absentee ballots cast, and these should be added to the tally Wednesday, according to officials.

Faulkner County Election Commission chairman Frank Shaw said on election night that one problem arose when the paper ballot counting machine inexplicably failed to “read” four ballots. Shaw said that the commission fully filled in the “bubbles” these absentee voters had marked to denote a choice, but the machine still failed to recognize the choices.

Then, the disc produced by the machine containing the absentee ballot results could not be recognized by the computer used to tally the votes.

“We’re getting an error code,” County Clerk Melinda Reynolds said.

Commissioner Phillip Liggett said on Tuesday night that this problem could be related to a flaw in the disc, the counting machine or the computer’s programming, but he expected that a technician contacted to address the problem Wednesday would be able to sort it out.

Also, election officials tasked with verifying the absentee votes added an extra step to the process.

Former Election Commissioner Marvin Lessmann resigned in March, citing problems with the county’s election process he said he could better fix from outside the commission and calling for Reynold’s resignation.

One of Lessmann’s complaints was that absentee ballots were not being properly verified before being counted. State election law states that the voter’s signature found inside the ballot packet must be compared to the signature found on the application to receive an absentee ballot — a step Lessmann claimed was being skipped. Election workers who have dealt specifically with absentee ballots for years said in March that they couldn’t remember having checked to see if one signature matched another, and election commissioners Shaw and Liggett said on Tuesday that it seemed this step had indeed been skipped for a number of years.

Of course it was not skipped on Tuesday. Lessmann watched as the absentee ballots were verified, recording a great deal of the work with a camcorder, and said that he was pleased to see that the election officials and commissioners seemed to be following the letter of the law in this aspect, though “there are still some other things to work on.”

Twenty-one of the absentee ballots were set aside due to discrepancies, which included missing or mismatched signatures. These will be reviewed by the commission Wednesday.

Another snag involved an errant voting machine at the Mount Vernon/South Mountain precinct polling location. This machine seemed to be malfunctioning on Tuesday morning when it was turned on by election workers, and so was simply set aside.

When polls closed and results were delivered to the county courthouse, this machine was not properly “closed out,” Reynolds said, and though it had recorded no votes whatsoever, it resulted in an on-paper-only unaccounted for precinct in election results.

It had been intended for the errant machine to record South Mountain precinct votes while the other remaining one recorded Mount Vernon precinct votes. With the one machine out of commission, the second was called upon to record votes for both precincts, which Reynolds said was something the machines were capable of and pointed out the voter-verifiable paper printoff showing how votes for the two precincts were distinctly counted.

So, though the final incomplete and unofficial results released late Tuesday night showed that 47 out of 48 precincts had reported, votes from all 48 precincts had been accounted for and counted, according to election officials.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)


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