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Stone County frets over sheriff’s race

By BY JEANNI BROSIUS Staff Writer

This article was published June 24, 2010 at 4:28 a.m.

— Who will be the next Stone County sheriff?

The night of May 18, Stone County Sheriff Todd Hudspeth awaited the primary election results to see if he would be on the Democratic ticket for the November general election to run against Republican candidate William Russ Aiken. As the results trickled in, the night ended with Hudspeth and Lance Bonds separated by very few votes, which led to a runoff on June 8.

This was only the beginning of what appears to be one of the most controversial elections the county has ever seen.

Believing that the race would be determined by a runoff, 2,766 voters from 29 precincts turned out. For the first time in Arkansas history, the result of the runoff was a tie, with each candidate garnering 1,383 votes.

“It was just unheard of,” Betty Allred said about the tie. “The next day [after the runoff], we decided to have a recount on Thursday.”

Allred is vice chairwoman for the Stone County Democratic Party and serves on the Stone County Election Committee and is a representative to the Democratic State Committee.

According to the results of the runoff recount, Hudspeth was the winner by five votes — until a discrepancy in the number of votes was discovered: Thirty-one votes were missing. “One of the audit logs was left behind at one of the precincts,” said Bob Turner, Stone County Democratic Election Committee chairman. After that log was pulled and added to the recount total, the race was tied once more. The ballots are counted differently in a recount than in the election, Turner said. The results are tallied electronically in the regular election, but the audit log from each electronic ballot machine is removed and tallied in a recount. Upon closer investigation, some of those votes were illegal. Thirty voters who voted on the Republican ticket in the primary election voted Democratic in the runoff. “What can we do, and what can we not do?” Stone County Clerk Donna Wilson asked. Perhaps the toss of a coin? “The chairman really urged them to do a coin toss,” Wilson said.

A State Police investigation was launched into the illegal votes, and the candidates met with the County Election Committee and determined that a coin toss wasn’t an option and set a meeting for 3 p.m. June 18. At that meeting, a tie was certified.

“The party’s state committee will make a determination if they want a special election, and until then, the nomination will be vacant,” said Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe’s office. “If they decide to have a special election, we will set the date.”

The Executive Committee of the Democratic Party met Monday at noon and indeed did determine that it would like a special election.

The recommendation was sent to Gov. Beebe’s office, and it was officially received Tuesday morning.

“We have five days after being officially notified to layout a timeline,” DeCample said. “We will set the election date, and that’s the extent of our involvement.”

DeCample also said the Governor’s Office has to set the election date within 30 to 60 days of the end of the filing period.

“We don’t see any language within the statute [7-7-104] that would prohibit that from happening,” DaCample said when asked if another candidate could toss his hat into the ring.

“Me and Lance Bonds will have to start a whole brandnew campaign,” Hudspeth said. “I hope we can get enough people out to vote.”

The investigation continues into the illegal votes.

“It is still under investigation,” 16th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Don McSpadden said. “Any type of voter misconduct will be treated on a case-by-case basis.”

It may take four elections to figure out who will be the next Stone County sheriff.

“I’m glad that this is going on with two guys that like each other,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and we came up together in law enforcement.”

Three Rivers, Pages 53 on 06/24/2010

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