May 25, 2006


Phillips County's election woes continue



World Staff Writer


Candidates, spectators, Phillips County election officials, and Kevin Berry, of Election Systems & Software met Thursday at the Phillips County Courthouse in an attempt to sort out some of the election misery the county is suffering.


The count almost seemed to be doomed from the beginning, as Berry tried, along with election officials, to locate a laser printer to consolidate the paper and electronic ballots. The county courthouse did not have the proper printer and several frantic calls eventually turned up a printer from the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce.


Hours later, other problems popped up, as the paper ballots inside the Ivotronic machine, and those stored in the Supervisor Personal Election Ballot, failed to match. Another snag in the count occurred when the Springlake Church ballot machine turned up two Phillips County justice of the peace races for Districts 7 and 8 at that polling place. Some machines were not properly closed Election night creating more headaches for election officials.


Tim Humphries of the Secretary of State's Office was contacted about looming questions concerning the start of early voting, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.


"You can't start early voting until you have the results from the primary," said Humphries. "Early voting will just have to wait."


He explained that it was not uncommon for early voting to be late, stating, "it's not common, but it happens."


Humphries also was asked how long the election commission had to certify the votes in a primary. He quoted Arkansas Code 7-7-309, which states, "The county board of election commissioners shall canvass the returns and examine the ballots when demanded. It may hear testimony, if offered, of fraudulent practices and illegal votes, may cast out illegal votes and fraudulent returns, may find the true and legal vote cast for each candidate, and it shall certify the result not later than ten (10) days after the primary."


Humphries had no comment as to whether ES & S was in breech of contract because of the voting conflicts or if the state of Arkansas would bring suit against the company.


Ann Clemmons, spokesperson for the state Election Commission reported that votes from Pulaski County "unofficially" completed their count around 4 p.m. but Phillips and Lonoke counties were having similar issues and still had no totals. Jill Friedman-Wilson, spokesperson for ES & S of Omaha, Neb., spoke with the Daily World about the problems of the system.


She was asked whether the contract with ES & S included a laptop for Phillips County to use to help tabulate the ballots from the Ivotronic system. She was informed that this was one of the problems the county election commission ran into with the electronic devices. She stated that she could not confirm each instance, or each county, and was not sure about Phillips County but it was a phased implementation.


Wilson said that the problem stemmed from the Ivotronic and the old Legacy 150 equipment not "matching up." The teams of election officials are not able to merge a consolidated report for the county. She added that the company regrets the delay and it was specific to the two systems. Wilson reported that ES&S had received reports that all the votes in Phillips County had been counted but that they could not generate the final report.


According to Wilson, the state and the company were working weeks ahead of time toward the early voting timeline. She called the timeline "challenging and aggressive."


Candidates keeping vigil at the courthouse reported that the electronic machines that were closed properly on election night were being moved into the courtroom, so that the election commission could work to resolve the problem.


The commission plans to start a manual hand count at noon today. The Phillips County Election Commission reported that representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties from Little Rock will be present at the hand count.


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