Saturday, May 26, 2012

TOP STORY >> Recount results same

Leader staff writer

A recount Friday evening of all votes cast in Lonoke County because one precinct was left out of the count on Tuesday changed the numbers of some of the close races but not the results. All the winners are still the winners.

John Staley, who got more votes than any of the four Republican candidates for sheriff, will still be in a runoff with Jason Wilkinson. The second count showed Staley with 1,382 votes to Wilkinson’s 1,241.

The winner of the June 12 runoff will take on Dean White in November. White won over Steve Rich in the two-way race for sheriff in the Democratic primary, 1,017 to 922.

Former Lonoke County Circuit Clerk Deborah Oglesby, who held the position for 10 years as a Democrat before losing it two years ago to Republican Denise Brown, still gets her old job back. Oglesby ran this time as a Republican and defeated Brown 2,145 to 2,040.

The race for Lonoke County assessor was the closest on Tuesday night. Assessor Jack McNally won over Jim Bailey 2071 to 2067, a difference of only four votes. After the recount, the gap had widened to 29 votes. McNally was the winner with 2,094 votes to Bailey’s 2065.

County Clerk Dawn Porter-field discovered the problem with the count Wednesday morning while she was comparing the sign-in sheets and lists of people who voted to the number of votes counted, a process that must be completed before elections are certified.

Then a search of bags holding voting machine printers produced the cartridges that record the ballots for counting, the PEBs or personal electronic ballots, for Magness Township in the northern part of the county.

The rumor was that more than 300 votes had not been counted. But the actual number was 183.

Tim Blair, chairman of the Lonoke County Election Commission, said Thursday that poll workers at the Magness Township precinct couldn’t zero out their machines after the polls closed as they must before the ballots can be counted, so they brought them to the courthouse where a technician could do it for them.

Somehow, the PEBs were left in the printer bags and no one noticed that they weren’t included in the pile on a table with the others.

“We should have had a checklist,” Blair said.

Jerry Shepard, a member of the commission, said the problem wasn’t apparent Tuesday night because the early and absentee ballots for Magness Township were counted. The number of votes was low, fewer than 40, but not low enough to alert them to the problem.

When Porterfield told them what had happened, Shephard said, “We immediately knew as a group that we needed a recount so people would have confidence in the system.”

Blair said the commission didn’t consider only counting the votes from Magness Township because so many of the races were very close.

Shepard, the lone Republican on the three-member election commission, said the commission’s job is to maintain the integrity of the process and to make sure voters feel they can trust it.

Tuesday, the counting was carried out in a courtroom and basement room of the courthouse. Neither room is conducive to public observation of the process.

Except for the counting of absentee ballots which had to be done in the courthouse basement because that’s where the equipment is kept, the recount took place in the large meeting room in the courthouse annex across the street from the courthouse and the election commission explained the process to a full house step-by-step.

Most of the numbers changed a little from the recount, but only the countywide results changed significantly.

Republican Henry Lang is in his second term as the justice of the peace for Dist. 3, but this election was his first with an opponent. Lang said after the votes were counted Tuesday that he is has always tried to serve county residents but it has always bothered him that the voters didn’t put him in office.

Although only 13 votes separated him from Joshua McCann, Lang said, “I’m grateful that they chose me.” After the recount, Lang was ahead 15 votes.

The Dist. 1 JP race was the only one with a significant change because Magness Township is in JP Dist. 1. Brent Cannon was the winner Tuesday night over Toby Troutman in the Republican Primary 125 to 66. After the recount, Cannon was the winner 184 to 126.

The results of two close races for Lonoke City Council were exactly the same after the recount.

Just before he read the results of the recount, Blair apologized to the voters and the candidates for the mistake. An election is a stressful time and he was sorry the commission had made it worse.

“Missing a precinct is not a small thing,” Blair said, adding that their goal Friday night had been to make people feel confident that the voting process does work.