Pine Bluff call raised to remove election official who drew handgun

Some Pine Bluff residents and civic leaders on Wednesday called for the removal of Stuart Soffer from the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners and the Jefferson County Election Commission, citing inappropriate behavior.

However, state and local officials have not indicated they plan any action toward his removal.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter, who holds authority to remove members from the Jefferson County Election Commission and who is its legal counsel, said no such action is being considered. The state election board, of which Soffer has been a member since 2012, said in a letter last week that complaints against Soffer were dismissed without investigation.

"When people file complaints against him, the complaints wind up going to a board that he is also a member of," said Michael McCray, a Jefferson County poll watcher and member of the local Democratic Party organization, who was among several people who spoke during a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

"We feel that this is a conflict of interest, we think it's unacceptable, and we are gathered today to call upon the governor, the attorney general, the state ethics board, and the state Board of Election Commissioners to do something about this injustice."

The call for his ouster came after Soffer drew a handgun from his pocket during a verbal altercation with former Pine Bluff mayoral candidate Theodis Davis after a disorderly March 31 Jefferson County Election Commission meeting.

"It's part of a broad concern of his conduct, which has been going on for some years -- this antagonism with black political leadership in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County," said Amelia LaFont, an attorney representing Davis and McCray. "But it seems to be escalating."

After the incident, Davis filed a complaint with the state Board of Election Commissioners, calling for an investigation into the practices of Soffer and the Jefferson County Election Commission.

Soffer, who is white, has served as a Republican on the Jefferson County commission since 2003, and he said that Wednesday's call for his removal comes after years of political tussling between him and Davis, McCray and other Democratic leaders in Jefferson County.

"They're all in it together," Soffer said, "and I'm just going to let the lawyers sort it out."

Davis complained to state officials that, during the mayoral campaign, Soffer expressed partisan opinions online in violation of Arkansas Code Annotated 7-4-109, which states, in part, that county election commissioners "shall not participate in the campaign of any candidate."

That complaint, however, was later dismissed by the state elections board director, Justin Clay, on April 13, who stated that "the alleged actions do not appear to rise to the level of participation" prohibited by state law. Clay's response to the complaint also states that, because county election commissioners are elected or appointed by their respective political party committee, disciplining falls to the Jefferson County prosecuting attorney.

Metro on 04/21/2016

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