Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> A dubious distinction for the county

BY GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader publisher

This is really amazing: We’re a twice-weekly newspaper, and we still have late-breaking election news a week after the primaries.

We knew the winner on “Ameri-can Idol” before we knew the local election results. Don’t ask why, but the winner of the Idaho governor’s race popped up on my computer screen minutes after the polls closed there, and they’re two hours behind us.

It’s taken almost a week for Lonoke County to add up the votes. No one can remember any county taking this long to count the votes, especially in a primary with a low turnout. Certification would take a while, but not the counting.

We thought we’d get the Lonoke County election results in Wed-nesday’s Leader — except that we were thinking of last Wednesday rather than today — a week after the primary, which is a record of sorts.

We usually get the election results in Wednesday’s paper after a long night of waiting for the counting to end, but last week’s tally took so long, we still didn’t have results for our Saturday edition.

Lonoke County has always tallied its votes at a snail’s pace — “Can’t anybody count around here?” had been the refrain at the courthouse on election night for years — but now the county has the dubious distinction of being the last one in Arkansas to have tabulated the results. Lonoke County came in behind Phillips County, one of the poorest in the state, which sent its results to the secretary of state on Friday night.

The votes were finally added up on Saturday in Lonoke County, but since it was a holiday weekend, hardly anybody was paying attention by then. Now it’s midweek, and you can check out the results in our election special – and you ‘ll probably read it here first.

Secretary of State Charlie Daniels is blaming the meltdown on Electronic Systems and Software, the vendor which supplied Arkansas with the voting machines and scanners, but someone should show Daniels out the door for not checking the equipment ahead of time.

Arkansas could use a secretary of state who can make sure the equipment he buys will work at election time. But you’ve got to hand it to the folks in White County: Officials there dug into their own pockets and bought enough electronic voting machines so that they didn’t have to rely on paper ballots.

The system worked beautifully: The results were in around midnight, while Pulaski County, which also had computer problems, didn’t have results until the next morning, after officials counted ballots by hand.

They’re blaming the problems on fancy electronic voting machines and scanners that supposedly count the ballots but didn’t until the contractor reprogrammed the software.

While Lonoke County officials were caught completely off-guard, in White County, election officials spent several hundred thousand dollars and tested their equipment before the primary.

Lonoke County officials insist they couldn’t get any more voting machines besides those that were bought with a federal grant. That’s understandable: Cabot has pockets of wealth, but much of Lonoke County is far from rich, which might explain why it trailed even poor Phillips County in the vote counting. Neither had enough electronic machines, but better preparation would have eliminated most of the problems with the vote counting.

Anyway, congratulations to the winners in Lonoke County, even if they had to wait almost a week before they found out the results.

Even the losers thought they might be winners for four days after the polls closed.

The next time, why don’t we all vote on our computers and have instant results?

If we can renew our tags online, why not retain or dump our politicians the same way?

Tabulating would go faster and would keep poll workers from looking over your shoulders to see how you voted.