Election commission not playing ball with Quorum Court
Justices, commissioners not seeing eye- to- eye on Q& A protocols
The Election Commission will not be getting questions from the Quorum Court in writing and some members still have questions about why certain polling sites were closed or moved.
The standoff between Justices Vickie Robertson and Stacy Allen and the Election Commission continued again at the August meeting with Robertson taking them to task for not returning to answer her questions.
“At our June meeting we asked you some questions and you said you would come back and give us some answers at the July meeting,” Robertson said.
“You didn’t come to the July meeting. Instead, we get a letter from the Election Commission that says you want all of your questions in writing in advance.”
Robertson said Quorum Court members ask county departments heads to appear before them all the time whenever they have questions, and that the Election Commission is no different.
“I will say in advance, the answer is no,” Robertson said. “We call department heads in here all the time whenever there is a question and we don’t give advance questions. You don’t get to decide what the questions are because we feel like if you take an action, then you need to be able to explain why you took an action.”
Robertson and Allen asked the Election Commission why they moved the polling site from Wonder Junior High to Pilgrim’s Rest Church in West Memphis. Robertson also asked about polling sites in Sunset and Edmondson as well and inquired about the procedure for closing a polling site.
“I’m still waiting on answers to those two questions,” Robertson said.
Election Commissioner Frank Barton said he did answer Robertson’s question about why they moved the polling site in Edmondson. Barton said the location was moved to a church because the site had been at Wedlock school which has since been closed.
“I got back to you on the Edmondson one at the same meeting,” Barton said.
Robertson said she didn’t ask about moving it from Wedlock. She wants to know why they moved it from City Hall which is where it was originally.
“They mayor asked why did you move it from City Hall to a church when City Hall was a public building and was perfectly fine to have it at City Hall,” Robertson said.
Election Coordinator Mike Farrah said they moved it from City Hall because there they did not have good Internet connection for the polling tablets.
“Moving out of City Hall was actually a connectivity issue for the tablets,” Farrah said.
Robertson asked commissioners why they tried to move the polling place from the County Courthouse.
“You wanted to move the one at the County building because you said someone asked you,” Robertson said. “I asked what’s the procedure because does it take just one person asking to move a site and then you move it?”
Barton said they were told that the room would not be available and made plans to move it to Trinity in the Fields Church.
“I wouldn’t say it’s as simple as that,” Barton said. “It was the Extension Service who had that room. The person in charge of the Extension Service contacted staff and let them know. We understood that the room we were using at the county office building wasn’t available.”
Barton said County Judge Woody Wheeless was unaware that the Extension Service told the Election Commission they couldn’t use the room and made it available.
“He said ‘no, that’s not the case,’” Barton said. “So we didn’t move because of that.”
Allen accused the Election Commission of violating the law because it was not a unanimous vote to close those polling sites.
“You might want to read the law,” Allen said. “It takes three of you to vote.
Some of your meetings you didn’t have three. I talked to (Democrat Party representative) Ms. (Veronica) Brooks, and she didn’t know Weaver and Richland got changed.”
Election Commission Chairwoman Dixie Carlson said Allen is incorrect.
“You need to go back and read it,” Carlson said. “It takes a unanimous vote of those present.”
“And that’s you three,” Allen responded.
Brooks agreed with Carlson.
“If I’m not present, the unanimous vote goes to them,” Brooks said.
“It’s the majority of those present is what it says,” Carlson added.
“I’m done with it,” Allen said.
Justice Kenneth Cross accused the Election Commission of not holding public hearings in the affected areas to announce they were considering closing polling sites.
“The law says they have to hold a public meeting 30 days prior to the election before they can vote to close a polling site,” Cross said.
Carlson said the topic was discussed at the Election Commission’s monthly meeting and that Cross is incorrect. They are not required to hold a public meeting in the areas affected.
“It doesn’t say a public meeting in those areas,” Carlson said.
“What public meeting did you have?” Cross asked.
“All our meetings are public,” Carlson said.
“It has to be a public meeting in that community, ma’am,” Cross continued.
“What part of the law did you read ‘in those areas,’” Carlson asked.
County Judge Woody Wheeless closed the discussion down citing a need to move on to other business.
By Mark Randall