While election results were pouring in from all over the state of Arkansas the night of the preferential primaries and non-partisan municipal and judicial races, Lonoke County posted the results of 32 absentee ballots cast for the May 22 election, then, nothing. Minutes dragged on into hours as various political hopefuls and their supporters dropped by the Lonoke County Courthouse Annex, situated just to the west of the courthouse square on Arkansas Hwy 31 in downtown Lonoke.
It was perhaps a fitting conclusion to an election season that has been, in the words of Mickey “Stubby” Stumbaugh, Lonoke County Election Commission chairman, “a fiasco, an absolute fiasco,” involving three election commissioners who have never overseen an election in Lonoke County, computerized voting machines that have been improperly stored, a bewildering array of partisan and non-partisan races, and a lawsuit filed after two Lonoke County voters said they were unable to vote at an England polling site.
According to the suit, Ellis Williams III and Elise Yarborough arrived at the England Recreation and Fitness Center only to find it closed, the suit claiming the site did not open until 10 a.m. on Election Day, and, once opened, had no ballots for the Democratic Primary. The plaintiffs, joined in the lawsuit by the Democratic Party of Arkansas, sought a ruling to require that voting hours be extended until 10 p.m. and that appropriate paper ballots be available at all locations.
The petition was denied by Lonoke County Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore and, later that evening, the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Stumbaugh denied that the polling site was closed that morning and said paper ballots were available at all locations for use in the event the voting machines could not be operated.
“I can understand people’s frustration,” Stumbaugh said, “but we didn’t deny anyone their right to vote.”
Stumbaugh seemed equally frustrated once the polls closed as he and the two other commissioners, Daniel Hayes and Dan Stowers, waited for provisional ballots to arrive from the county clerk’s office across the street.
“This is ridiculous. We’ve had almost no help from the county clerk and the only commissioner with election experience resigned a month and a half ago to run for mayor,” Stumbaugh said. “If we don’t have a runoff, I’ll tender my resignation June 1st.”
Jim Bailey, the former election commission chairman, was defeated in his bid to unseat incumbent Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee, receiving 184 votes to McGee’s 199 votes, according to unofficial election results that were released at 2:45 a.m. the morning after the election.
Stumbaugh, Hayes, and Stowers, along with employees from the Lonoke County Clerk’s office and a technician from Election Systems & Software, the Omaha, Nebraska based vendor that supplies electronic voting machines to the Arkansas counties that use them, worked through the night trying to coax the vote totals from the 200 machines’ portable electronic ballots (PEBs) and flash card storage media.
At 11 p.m., Hayes began pulling the flash cards from all but four voting machines and closing them. Stowers, working at one machine, replied with a terse, “almost,” in response to Stumbaugh’s query about his progress.
“He’s almost finished with the Cabot early votes and we’ve got England still to go,” Stumbaugh said to someone in the hallway outside of the annex conference room. “We’ll know something by 1:30.”
Then, about midnight, Stumbaugh and Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley hurriedly left the annex, returning a short time later, at which time the process resumed. Staley, who was running unopposed for a fourth term as county sheriff, had brought three deputies to supervise inmates who were assisting with transport of voting machines and to provide security for the commissioners as the votes were bing counted.
After he returned, Stumbaugh explained to about 20 or so remaining observers that the flash card reader the county was using had failed, so he had arranged for someone to meet him halfway between Lonoke and Little Rock for a new one. But he said the exchange proved unnecessary, and explained why he was gone only about 10 minutes.
“Thank God for Lonoke Walmart,” he said, and then he offered assurances that the count would soon be concluded.
Stumbaugh said much of the problem, in addition to the balky machines, was due to mislabeled PEBs supplied by ES&S, as many as 75 percent of them being faulty, and many of them completely blank, he said.
“This has been a nightmare from day one,” he said. “I did have some help on early voting from the clerk’s office but today is the first time I’ve talked to them in over a week. I’ve had no help but from the secretary of state’s office. My frustration level has been at an all-time high.”
Stumbaugh said all of the problems experienced during preparations for the election, during the voting process, and while trying to verify vote counts from the machines had left him “sickened and appalled,” and word that the county is supposed to purchase $180,000 worth of new voting machines was not particularly welcome news.
“I never dreamed that anything could possibly be harder than paper ballots,” he said. “Pulaski County has been counted since 10 o’clock, and you know why? They have paper ballots.”
At 1:45, a hurried phone call was made to ES&S after a discrepancy in the vote totals was discovered. At one point, Stumbaugh, talking on the telephone with a representative from ES&S, said, “That’ll take weeks.” As he started to say something else, he was abruptly cut off by the ES&S technician who was onsite exclaimed, “I think this is it. We’ve found it. We’ve got it!”
At that point, scattered applause and cheers broke out from around the room.
The problem, it turned out, was a misread number that was creating what appeared to be a discrepancy, but was quickly cleared up and the numbers balanced once it was discovered.
By 2:45, all of the votes, with the exception of three machines containing votes from Indian Bayou, Cleveland, and Cabot Ward 3, had been tallied and unofficial results posted. Also outstanding were 16 provisional ballots approved by the commission but not counted. According to Stumbaugh, those remaining votes would be counted within the week.
According to the results released Wednesday morning by the commission, these are the results of the contested races in Lonoke County:
Dawn Porterfield – 3063/64 percent
Courtney Ruble – 1755/34 percent;
Therese L. O’Donnell – 3263/67 percent
Lynn Weeks Clarke – 1578/33 percent
Donna Pedersen – 2399/50.24 percent
Teresa Williams Cruise – 1698/35.56 percent
Cleta Hardy – 678/14.20 percent
Carla Horton – 2426/52 percent
James Pearson – 2212/48 percent
JP District 8
Tate House – 281/65.5 percent
Billy Gilliam – 148/34.5 percent
Wayne McGee – 199/52 percent
Jim Bailey – 184/48 percent.