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A candidate for Lonoke County assessor filed a complaint Thursday with the state, claiming that the husband of one of her opponents wore a campaign T-shirt as he walked past voting machines during the early-voting period.

The latest complaint joins three others about Lonoke County voting filed with the state Board of Election Commissioners since the May 22 judicial and party primary elections. The county experienced widespread problems from the time polls opened on election day, and they ranged from equipment failures to problems with paper ballots

The new complaint comes from Cleta Hardy, one of the three candidates for Lonoke County assessor. Hardy, who received 728 votes, lost to Donna Pedersen, who received 2,595 votes. Teresa Cruise got 1,789.

Hardy claimed that Pedersen's husband, Bill "Pete" Pedersen, while wearing a campaign T-shirt, walked to the bathroom inside the Cabot Library polling site "about every 45 minutes" for five days of early voting between May 7 and May 11.

State law prohibits "electioneering" within 100 feet of the primary exterior entrance used by voters during early voting or on election day.

"I felt it was important [to file a complaint] because the law was being broken," Hardy said in an interview. "As a candidate in that race I wanted it to be fair but it wasn't. It wasn't fair from the beginning. Teresa Cruise and I worked just as hard as anyone else. Right from the beginning, we did not get the clean race we deserved and expected."

Hardy said a glass wall separated the route to the restroom from voters at the polls. She also said that another woman was allowed to enter the polling site while wearing a "Donna Pedersen for Lonoke County Assessor" shirt.

According to the complaint, Hardy said Lonoke County Election Commission Chairman Stubby Stumbaugh said the actions did not violate law and proceeded to later accost her husband, Rick Hardy, in a telephone call. Stumbaugh was "very rude, derogatory and hung up on my husband after calling him names," Hardy said in the complaint.

Stumbaugh admitted in an interview Thursday that he initially said the T-shirt incidents were not against voting rules. He said he then contacted the office of Secretary of State Mark Martin for advice and was told it was illegal for the campaign shirts to be worn within 100 feet of the polling sites.

Stumbaugh said he immediately put a halt to the situation and Bill Pedersen complied.

"You get people who complain, complain and complain," Stumbaugh said. "At the end of the day, we're all grownups. Let's stop complaining on each other. It's worse than herding cats."

When contacted, Donna Pedersen said that Hardy is just "calling sour grapes."

"She is a sore loser and that's the only way she can get back at me," she said.

Pedersen said people wearing shirts with the campaign slogan for Cruise also were seen walking to the bathroom and were later told by poll officials they had to either turn the shirts inside out or wear other shirts into the polling place.

"Why didn't she [Hardy] say anything about that?" Pedersen said.

When asked, Hardy said, "They wore coats in the library. They never had their shirts showing."

Other complaints filed with the state board included voters being turned away because a driver's license scanner didn't work and inmates transporting voting machines to a central location before the machines were counted and closed out.

Last week, the state Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit by the Democratic Party of Arkansas seeking to keep the county's polls open 2½ hours past the normal 7:30 p.m. closing time when an England polling site was closed down because of equipment failure.

Then, when the polling place opened, the lawsuit claims, there were no paper ballots for the Democratic primaries, but plenty for other elections. The party filed a complaint with the state.

Stumbaugh said the equipment failures occurred because the all-new election commission officials did not insert some flash drives correctly and some machines were damaged from being stored in a building without climate control.

The county submitted election totals to the secretary of state's office more than 24 hours after the polls closed, making Lonoke County the last in the state to report.

The state Board of Election Commissioners has six months from the time of the filing to investigate and resolve the complaints.

Daniel Shults, legal counsel for the board, said previously that fines are rare when it comes to complaints. But if a complaint is validated, the consequences can range from a reprimand letter to a monetary fine of not less than $25 and not more than $1,000.

Hardy said she hopes that Stumbaugh and Bill Pedersen have to answer for their actions.

"Electioneering is a crime and I think they should pay the penalty for what they did," Hardy said.

Metro on 06/01/2018

Print Headline: Election grumble is fourth in county

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