Friday, September 19, 2008

TOP STORY > >County preparing for fall elections

Leader staff writer

With 45 days to go before the election and none of the preparations completed, the Lonoke County clerk and what’s left of the election commission asked the quorum court Thursday night to authorize hiring help to make sure all is ready when voters go to the polls Nov. 4.

The quorum court complied, telling County Clerk Dawn Porterfield that she could hire a deputy clerk until the end of the year and appropriated $5,127.37 to pay the salary and benefits. But the election commission was instructed to use $5,000 of its own money to hire someone to help with the paperwork and programming the computerized voting machines and, if necessary, another person with the strength and endurance required to move the 101 machines to wherever they are needed.

In addition to help, the election commission also needs space to set up the machines and to store them when they are not in use, which is really the crux of he problem. Larry Clarke, the chairman and the Republican member of the Lonoke County Election Commission, resigned last month after County Judge Charlie Troutman took one machine to the two rooms the commission used at the county-owned mini-mall beside city hall in Cabot and gave it to the Arkansas State Police. Now, not only is the commission down one member, leaving only two to do the work, Clarke apparently knew more about getting ready for an election than the other two members and did more than could have reasonably been expected.

“We’ve needed help for a long time,” said Jaunita Horn, who has been chairman since Clarke resigned. “Larry was just an exceptional person and he did it all.”

Whether $5,000 would cover the cost of getting ready for election day was unclear. Horn and Don Johnson, the other commissioner, said it likely would not. Troutman said if it didn’t, the budget could be amended to reflect the actual cost. But the bigger problem of where to set up the equipment was far from resolved when the meeting ended.

Horn said the space the commission is left with is only 200 square feet. By also using the hallway at the mini-mall after the other offices closed, the commission was able to set up 18 voting machines at one time. But the hallway was hot and poorly lit, she said, and the commission simply needs more space to get the machines ready in time for the election.

Porterfield told the quorum court that she will likely hire a deputy clerk with Pulaski County to fill the new position. Although the county clerk is responsible by law for elections, Porterfield said state law also forbids her to work on an election if she has an opponent.

“There is no way morally or ethically that I can work on that election,” she said.

This is the first time the quorum court has had to deal with such a situation, and Alexis Malham, District 6 justice of the peace asked how Prudie Perceful, Porterfield’s predecessor, had handled it.

“What did Prudie do?” Malham asked.

“Prudie didn’t ever have an opponent,” Porterfield said.

In other business, the quorum court passed a resolution sponsored by District 2 JP Jannette Minton to be sent to Alcoholic Beverage Control opposing a private club liquor license for a restaurant in Ward. Since ABC has already approved the license and that decision has been appealed to circuit court in Pulaski County and Lonoke County, Troutman tried to tell the quorum court that a resolution was pointless. “I think it’s out of our hands,” he said. But the quorum court approved it anyway with “no” votes from Sonny Moery, District 8, and Mike Dolan, District 11.

The restaurant is to be located at the intersection of Hwy. 38 and Hwy. 319 on the same property as the well-known Dude’s Place, a combination gas station and restaurant now called 38 Special.

“It’s a horrible location,” Minton said. “They’re going to put a club in a rural neighborhood. It is also a busy intersection. There are no other businesses there but there are two churches and a school nearby.”

Moery responded that the problem is Ward’s not the county’s and he didn’t want to interfere.

“Personally, I don’t drink, but I don’t want to get involved,” Moery said.