Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Northwest Arkansas Edition


May 27, 2006


2 counties’ machine woes delaying final vote tally




Three days after the election, Arkansas’ vote count remained incomplete Friday as officials in Phillips and Lonoke counties worked to tally votes from paper ballots and touch-screen voting machines.


In Pulaski County, the end of vote counting led a state House candidate to request a recount Friday. Also, officials planned to start early voting Tuesday for the June 13 run off using paper ballots because the touch-screen machines cannot be programmed in time.


Doug Ladner, who unofficially lost the District 41 Republican primary to businessman Ed Garner, filed a petition to recount the 1, 319 votes cast in that election during the May 23 primary and non-partisan judicial election. Ladner lost by nine votes, and 10 military and overseas ballots in that district have until June 2 to be received and counted.


The recount will cost Ladner’s campaign roughly $ 330 — 25 cents per vote to be recounted — but the Pulaski County Election Commission will refund the fee if the initial result is overturned.


With all precincts in the district reporting, the unofficial result on Friday was:

Garner................... 664

Ladner.................... 655


While Ladner hopes to pick up enough votes to win the Republican primary, which likely will determine who will take the seat in the 2007 General Assembly because there is no Democratic candidate, he said he wants to reassure his supporters that he exercised all his options after a primary vote that was plagued by equipment problems.


“I still don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable that every vote was there,” said Ladner, a Maumelle alderman. “Either way it could go, with so many glitches and all that’s gone on, you just question the software and the process.”


His opponent, Garner, called Ladner’s recount request “appropriate.”


“Given all the problems that we’ve encountered with the tally of votes, and give the hard work of his supporters and his contributors, I totally understand that he would do that,” Garner said.


The recount will be held June 6.


Pulaski County, like dozens of other Arkansas counties, suffered voting equipment delivery delays, ballot-counting machine programming errors and touchscreen voting machine snags.


Early voting for run offs begins Tuesday, and Election Systems & Software, the company that supplied most of Arkansas with election equipment, told the secretary of state’s office that it won’t be able to program the roughly 2, 500 iVotronic touchscreen machines in Arkansas by that day.


As a result, the secretary of state’s office Friday advised county election officials in the 72 counties that use iVotronic touch-screen machines to begin voting as soon as possible with any voting method available, even though the lack of a touchscreen machine may violate a state law requiring one.


In Columbia, Ouachita and Union counties, election equipment already met state and federal standards, so those counties didn’t participate in the state’s $ 15 million contract with Election Systems & Software. Those counties were among the first to post complete election results Tuesday.


In response to the equipment and logistics problems that surfaced, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels on Thursday said he would retain a consultant to evaluate the Election Systems & Software’s performance.


The consultant, Glenn Newkirk, president of Raleigh, N. C.-based InfoSentry Services Inc., last year helped Daniels assess proposals offered by Election Systems & Software and its rival Diebold. Deputy Secretary of State Janet Harris said Newkirk didn’t rate the offerings or make a recommendation.


“He was merely a facilitator,” she said.


On Friday, Newkirk said his job last year was to compare the two vendors and point out strengths and weaknesses to a committee chosen by Daniels.


“That’s where I leave it,” Newkirk said.


For his report, due June 30, he’ll request a wide range of documents from Election Systems & Software, including project-management plans, status reports and personnel files. Newkirk will interview company workers, members of Daniels ’ staff and officials in some of the counties that encountered the worst snarls, he said.


Newkirk graduated from Hot Springs High School and earned undergraduate degrees in political science and history from the University of Arkansas. He did graduate work in Colorado, then went into the computer business, eventually forming the consulting firm Infosentry in 1994, he said.


In addition to his work in Arkansas, Newkirk has done extensive consulting for other states including Oregon, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, he said.


While most of the state is preparing for the run off, officials in Lonoke and Phillips counties on Friday worked to finish counting votes cast Tuesday.


In Lonoke County on Friday, election workers awaited the delivery of a new programming chip for its ballot-counting machines. When it arrives and passes an accuracy test, officials will begin the count.


Election Commissioner Jean McCanliss said she didn’t know when the chip would show up.


“We have not heard one word from ES&S,” she said.


Company technicians in Phillips County had yet to pull vote totals from 10 iVotronic touchscreen machines Friday afternoon, said election coordinator Linda Broome.


Broome said the workers had made progress, having already completed counts on six machines.


“They’re working diligently,” she said.


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