Sec. of State releases summary of May 20 election foul-up

JOE LAMB
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
Published Saturday, August 23, 2008

Faulkner County Justice of the Peace Jimmy Bryant requested some weeks ago that Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels seek more information concerning the problematic May 20 election.

He found his request had been granted Friday evening when he found a summary of what went wrong on election night among his mail.

According to a summary of the election night foul-up signed by deputy secretary of state Janet Harris and dated Aug. 12, election commissioners received an error message that something was amiss on election night but failed to heed the warning.

Vote tallying errors in the election meant that the results of the Arkansas House of Representatives District 45 Democratic Primary election were reversed. Dr. Terry Fiddler was announced as the winner, but a recount requested by opponent Linda Tyler uncovered the mistakes that led to her being declared the winner.

Rep. Betty Pickett (D-Conway) is the current District 45 Represent but cannot be re-elected due to term limits.

The error started at the East Cadron B Precinct polling site, where County Clerk Melinda Reynolds noticed that the machine did not include the district 45 race and ordered that all voters at the precinct be given paper ballots for this race only.

Voters were allowed to use the machines for all other races.

It was when the vote-bearing electronic cartridges arrived at the Faulkner County Courthouse and were plugged into vote-tallying computers that the election derailed.

"To tally electronic ballots," the Secretary of State's summary reads, "the county election commission must read the ballot cartridges into the Election Reporting software. During this process, the commission received an error message from the software indicating that a ballot style was missing and that there were not enough candidates and contests contained on the cartridge.

"The proper procedure to follow in the case of a missing race or missing ballot style would have been to stop the automated tally process and instead to manually enter the results from the precinct in question into the software," the summary continues. "That process ensures that both the paper ballots and the electronic ballots would have been combined and recorded accurately.

"Failure to heed the software error message resulted in votes from the constable race recording instead for the race located directly above it, in this case the District 45 State Representative race. In other words, since the error message was overridden, the software assumed programming on the electronic ballots was correct when, in fact, it was not. All vote totals for all races in the precinct were moved up because of the programming and procedural errors."

The summary goes on to say that had the election commission properly tested the machines and software prior to election night, the error would have been caught.

"Our recommendation," the summary reads, "which is consistent with our training curricula, is that the county must test all paper and electronic ballots prior to election day, and must reconcile the reports from the software with the rest of the scripts to ensure 100-percent accuracy in coding.

"It is our understanding that the county did not fully test the election day ballots, and thus did not catch the error in time to recreate the electronic ballots for East Cadron B. Using paper ballots in this case was the best alternative to ensure all voters (had) an opportunity to case a ballot, but the proper procedure must be followed during the tabulation in order to arrive at correct vote totals."

The report concludes with the Secretary of State's understanding that limited resources and time may have been a factor that led to the skewed results and his encouragement that the county allocate more of each for future elections.

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




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