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Board complaint targets Pulaski County's voting officials

by Rachel Herzog | December 3, 2020 at 7:10 a.m.
Election officials work Tuesday Nov. 10, 2020 in Little Rock at the Pulaski County Election Commission to tabulate provisional ballots cast during the Nov. 3, 2020, General Election. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

The state Board of Election Commissioners on Thursday initiated and adopted a four-part complaint against the Pulaski County Election Commission, alleging problems with procedures, security and reporting in the Nov. 3 general election.

Commissioner Bilenda Harris-Ritter proposed the complaint during a special meeting of the state board Wednesday morning. The complaint outlined four issues:

• Pulaski County election commissioners and staff failed to implement sufficient procedures and safeguards.

• Election workers mistakenly fed 327 disqualified ballots into vote-counting machines.

• Commissioners failed to provide a timely and accurate reporting of unofficial election results.

• The reporting of several issues with ballot security.

"We can't have it be like this," Harris-Ritter said. "That doesn't do anything to instill confidence in voters that there's any integrity to the election at all."

Copies of complaints filed with the state Board of Election Commissioners are not subject to disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, per Arkansas Code Annotated 7-4-120(c)(2), which states that complaints are exempt until a hearing by the state board is set or the board's investigation is closed.

State board member William Luther moved that commissioners vote to adopt the complaint, which board member Charles Roberts seconded. The motion was approved unanimously, starting a 180-day timeline for the state agency to investigate the complaint to see if state law was violated.

Though the board receives complaints from residents, it's not unheard of for the state board to initiate a complaint itself. Daniel Shults, the commission's director, said it happens about once or twice each election year.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Pulaski County Director of Elections Bryan Poe said he was unaware of the complaint from the state board.

The Pulaski County Election Commission members are two Republicans and one Democrat.

The state Board of Election Commissioners appointed an election monitor for Pulaski County to observe procedures during the March 3 election, at Harris-Ritter's request. Harris-Ritter had cited a misplaced ballot during a February recount of a Democratic primary runoff for a special election to fill an open House seat in District 34.

In other business Wednesday, the state board was told that polls in Jefferson County did not open on time for the Nov. 3 election because of technical issues relating to inputting the machines' password.

In Mississippi County, issues were identified early on with people voting in the wrong place, but the numbers were manually adjusted and those voters were given supplemental ballots, according to Chris Madison, the commission's legal counsel.

The board also moved that staff continue working on two pieces of legislation proposed for the upcoming session: one that would expand the board's authority to investigate voter registration violations, and another that deals with the timing and notice of special elections.


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