War of words continues between QC justices, election officials
Polling place site change protocol still a sticking point
Several Quorum Court justices continued their feud with the county Election Commission, this time chastising members for not showing up to the July meeting to answer more questions about why they failed to send out notices of polling location closures in a more timely manner.
Justices Vickie Robertson and Stacy Allen again accused the Election Commission of not holding a public hearing 30 days prior to the election to inform the public that they were closing some polling locations.
“They were supposed to be here today because there were some unanswered questions about polling places,” Robertson said.
The controversy stems from the June meeting when Allen accused Election Commission Chairwoman Dixie Carlson of being underhanded and deliberately trying to suppress voter turnout by changing polling locations and not letting voters know before the election.
Allen claimed that election commissioners gave the information to County Clerk Paula Brown only three days before the date of the May primary. The Election Commission is responsible for getting the information to the County Clerk so that it can be mailed out to voters within 15 days of the election.
The Election Commission moved polling sites in Sunset, Edmondson, and one from Wonder Junior High to Pilgrim’s Rest Church in West Memphis.
Election Commissioner Frank Barton told Allen and the Quorum Court at the June meeting that the commission met on April 19. Election Commissioner Mike Farrah was supposed to not wait for the official minutes to notify Brown of the polling place changes, but due to an oversight for which he apologized to the Quorum Court, got the notice to Brown on May 2 — which was still within the 15 day deadline. Brown and her staff stayed late that day to prepare the notices and got them in the mail on Friday, May 3. Brown later admitted to the Election Commission that she thought the notices were supposed to be in 15 days before the start of early voting. Brown also denied telling Allen that she only had three days before the election to send out the notices.
Allen doubled down on his claims that the Election Commission broke the law, claiming that the commission was supposed to hold a public hearing 30 days before the election to let the public know they were considering
“I’m aware of the 15 day deal,” Allen said. “But the law actually says if you are changing polling sites you’re supposed to have a 30 day public hearing.
They voted April 19 to close Wonder. We all know by April 22 they didn’t have a public meeting.
They’re supposed to have a public meeting and they didn’t have that.”
Election Commissioner Frank Barton told The Evening Times in a text message that he was unaware
that election commissioners were supposed
to be at the meeting.
“There was no reason for us to be there in my opinion,” Barton said.
Barton said that Allen clearly doesn’t know the law and cited Arkansas Code 7-5-10 (d)(2) which states that the deadline for the county board of elections to change a polling site is 30 days prior to the primary election.
The decision to close the polling sites was made at the April 19 Election Commission
meeting. Notice of
the meeting and public hearing to discuss polling place changes was given to The Evening Times on April 10 and ran every day beginning April 12.
“Then they missed the notice of the poll location change,” Barton said. “It was noted in the paper.
Stacy does not understand the law regarding poll changes. We did it at the Election Commission meeting on April 19. It was announced properly.”
A letter to Brown signed by Carlson and Barton pointed the finger back at Brown for causing the controversy.
According to the letter, Brown has a copy of the election calendar from the Secretary of State’s Office — the same one they get from the state — and should have known the dates, in this case, May 7th when the notices were due. “It is difficult to comprehend how a person with your experience could be devoid of such basic election knowledge given the resources available to you and the training you took prior to the primary,” the letter states. “If you were aware of the deadlines set by the Arkansas statutes and led the county governing body to believe that the Election Commission violated those statutes your actions can only be considered disingenuous. In any case, you and you alone, were responsible for misleading the County Judge, the Quorum Court, and the public in attendance.”
Barton said the Quorum Court is free to file a complaint with the State Board of Election Commissioners “if they believe an election law was violated.”
By Mark Randall