KTHV reports on a Pulaski County Election Commission recount Wednesday of votes in the special Democratic primary election for House District 34, a process that knocked one vote off the total of Ryan Davis and gave Joy Springer a one-vote lead, 372-371.
The commission will meet Friday to decide the final vote. It still has one overseas military ballot to open and count out of five that were distributed to absentee voters. Others have until Friday to be returned.
It developed during the meeting that 13 absentee ballots weren’t counted. some for the failure of signatures to match voter records. This is an ongoing problem. I know my signature bears no resemblance to my original voter registration signature. Springer brought a woman whose ballot had been rejected to tell the Commission the signature was hers. But the Commission, following legal advice, decided it couldn’t review the decision.
This provides a window on the potential for poll workers to suppress votes, a representative for the NAACP noted.
This election, in which there is no Republican opposition, is to fill out this year’s term for the late John Walker. Springer and Davis are on the ballot March 3, along with a third candidate, for a new term in the office. The special election will determine who holds the seat during the coming budget session of the legislature.
UPDATE: Ryan Davis commented on Facebook about his loss of a ballot:
To be clear… I am NOW down 1 vote because there was a lost ballot. A. LOST. BALLOT!
The stub for the Ballot exists. It has been acknowledged that a person voted for me. That single LOST vote is not included in the now certified recount. We’re pressing for a full investigation and a search for the missing ballot.
UPDATE: Election Commissioner Joshua Price offered further details on what transpired:
No ballots were rejected for the failure of signatures at the polls to match voter records. If a voter’s information does not match what the Pulaski County Clerk’s office has on file, the resident will be given a provisional ballot and still be allowed to vote.
There were 13 total absentee ballots that were disqualified for various reasons (see attached spreadsheet with explanation for disqualification and supporting Arkansas Code that was distributed at last night’s Pulaski County Election Commission Meeting).
4 of these absentee ballots were disqualified due to signatures not matching voter records held by the Pulaski County Clerk’s office.
For further clarification in regards to the 4 absentee ballots that were rejected due to signatures not matching the Clerk’s voter records, the Pulaski County Election Commission (PCEC) makes every effort to always take the side of the voter when discrepancies with absentee ballots such as these arise. When an absentee ballot is identified because the signature on the voter statement does not match the signature on file with the Clerk’s office and it goes up to the Commissioners for review, it has already passed through numerous checkpoints and been reviewed by a minimum of four (4) people. Additionally, poll workers are trained not to flag small signature variances but rather only look for gross discrepancies between signatures.
If an absentee ballot poll worker flags a ballot because they identify a gross discrepancy between the signatures, the ballot is then double-checked by another poll worker. If that poll worker agrees with the first poll worker’s assessment, the absentee ballot is then sent to Shawn Camp, the Assistant Director of Elections of the PCEC for further inspection. If Mr. Camp agrees that the signature on the absentee ballot does not match the signature on file, the absentee ballot is sent to the Director of Elections Bryan Poe for review. If Director Poe agrees with the assessment of Mr. Camp, then the absentee ballot in question is sent to the Election Commissioners for final review. The Election Commissioners undergo training with the State Board of Election Commissioners to identify nonmatching signatures and again only focus on gross discrepancies. Any absentee ballots disqualifies by the Commission must have a majority of 2 out of 3 Commissioners agree that the signature on the voter statement has a gross discrepancy with the signature provided by the Clerk’s office. In the year I have served on the Commission, all three commissioners have always unanimously agreed on disqualifying an absentee ballot due to gross discrepancies in signatures.
Unfortunately, the State of Arkansas currently does not have laws that allow a voter in this situation to “cure” their ballot by providing additional information so that their ballot can be reevaluated by the Election Commission and potentially be counted. The Commission even sent a letter to the Pulaski County Attorney for clarification if any supplementary information could be submitted by these absentee voters so that their ballots could be reevaluated. The County Attorney informed the Commission that there was no procedure within the law for them to reevaluate these disqualified absentee ballots, and that the election commission does not have the authority to create new procedures in the absence of state law.
The Election Commission shares the frustration of the voters of Pulaski County who took their time to send in their absentee ballots and also attend the meeting to plead their cases. The Commission takes all of these grievances and feedback very seriously and is taking every step to fully document these issues and provide a full report to the State Board of Election Commissioners along with some recommendations for the state legislature to create new laws to address these gaps. Whether votes are cast through Early Voting, Absentee or Provisional ballots, or on Election Day, the Commission is committed to making sure that every voter in Pulaski County has every opportunity to make their voices heard.