Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

TOP STORY >> Lonoke counting in disarray

Leader staff writers

Saying “the numbers on this (tote) board aren’t worth spit,” Lonoke County Election Commissioner Larry Clarke announced at about 1 a.m. Wednesday that the optical scanner was incorrectly programmed and that it could be days until the results of the Lonoke County primary election are known.

Pulaski County was having the same problems and had only released about 4 percent of the vote, but commissioners and board members took off their ties and rolled up their sleeves and planned to stay until the count was verified, according to Susan Inman with the election commission.

“We’ll be lucky to recount this week,” Clarke said of the Lonoke County problems.

He said ES&S, the contractor for the voting machines, scanners and their programming, told him minutes earlier that the company would try to reprogram the disk today.

“We’ll have to run them all over. It will take all tomorrow (Wednesday) to reprogram the scanner for the 190 ballot styles,” Clarke said.

Then they must be tested. After the election commission is satisfied that the programming is correct, then a recount will begin.

The 35 people still assembled lat at night at the courthouse shook their heads or groused. One challenged Clarke, and said maybe ES&S should be the election commission and suggested a hand count.
“Hand counting is not an option,” Clarke said.

Clarke credited Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCastlain with the discovery that the ballots were being incorrectly scanned.

Cabot mayoral candidates in Ward 1 got only 28 votes in the Republican primary, while the scanner recorded 121 votes split between the Republican sheriff candidates.

Clarke said the scanner seemed to be picking up all countywide races but recording only some votes in the local races for mayors, aldermen and justices of the peace.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said, “I’ve never seen anything like it, but this problem was occurring in some other counties as well.”

Pulaski County’s Inman said her crew was verifying the results by hand. She said the problem, like in Lonoke, was with the optical scanner program. She explained that the cumulative totals and end reports generated by the new software couldn’t be trusted.

“We are having to pull the tapes and double check the vote counts and make sure the right votes go to the right candidate,” Inman said.

“We are doing our job,” she said, making sure of the vote.

Inman said even the representatives of the software company who were on hand at the courthouse Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were “shocked and surprised as anyone” with the problems.

Inman emphasized that the election commission would “not blindly trust” the information provided by the software.
“We are responsible and will not post any results that could be incorrect,” she said.