“Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.” ― Napoleon Bonaparte
Something went very wrong on Election Day in Benton County this past Tuesday. I am not referring to my defeat as an Independent candidate for the state legislature, but rather the outrageously long lines suffered by the citizens of my home town, Pea Ridge. Sure there were long lines everywhere, but as someone who had sign-waivers set up at ten polling places I was in a unique position to tell you how much worse it was at Pea Ridge. The lines were long some other places, and shorter in others, but Pea Ridge was Ground Zero for the electoral fiasco of Tuesday's election. People were still voting in Pea Ridge ten minutes until midnight.
Because I was standing in front of the polling place much of the day, I could pick a time when the lines were shorter, so it "only" took me two hours and forty minutes to vote. My wife, sick with a cold, waited four hours in line in order to vote for me. I repeatedly told her she should not vote, but being who she is, she insisted. Many citizens, upon seeing the 100 yard long line out the door, turned away without voting. I would estimate that hundreds who came to the polls in Pea Ridge that day left without voting.
The long lines suppressed voter turnout in Pea Ridge. I am not claiming that the suppressed voter turnout was the difference in the race- it wasn't. But it could have been, and that introduces the aspect of motive. The County Election Commission, run by Republicans (and Democrats too, but my opponent was the establishment and I was the outsider), had both motive and opportunity to deliberately restrict voting opportunities in a voting location where I could be expected to poll stronger relative to my Republican (but liberal) opponent.
Of course, as the dead Frenchman quoted above indicates, the foul up in Pea Ridge could be a matter of simple incompetence. Let's hope so, because it is absolutely essential to the continuance of our Republic that the population believes that our elections are conducted in a fair and even-handed manner. The reason we are able to resolve our public issues peaceably instead of with the sort of violence we so often see in other nations is that our population accepts the legitimacy of election results. Those who would try to play games with the conduct of our elections are committing the vilest sort of public crime, and in my view should be subject to the strongest possible punishment. The people must have faith and goodwill as regards the management of our elections.
Unfortunately, the decisions made by our County Election Commission defy innocent explanation. We already know that there were multiple early voting locations in Rogers and Bella Vista, and of course in Bentonville. There were no early voting locations in any small towns or more rural areas of the county. You would think, if they wanted to give those of us in the small towns and rural areas an equal chance to early vote compared to our fellow citizens in the larger cities, that they could at least rotate an early voting location or two among the small towns. When I mentioned this to a friend who lives in Texas, he laughed and said that he early voted- in a town of only 1,200 people. Apparently our neighbors to the south don't just stack early voting locations in the big cities.
Then there is the issue of voting machine allocation. If small towns are allocated zero machines in early voting, you might think they would be allocated a larger share on election day itself. The opposite was true. For example, the moderate sized precincts who voted at the Bella Vista Church on McNelley Road had five machines even though many Bella Vistans voted early. The much larger Pea Ridge location only had four voting machines. I understand that our local election officials asked the county election commission for more voting machines than the four they gave us, but were rebuffed. This only lends credence to the theory that someone wanted long lines to reduce voter turnout in an area that might not vote for the candidate of their choice.
Lest you think that our sacred public officials would never stoop to such shenanigans, I remind you that current 2nd District Congressman Tim Griffin was strongly linked to a voter suppression scheme
called "voter caging" when he worked for the saintly Karl Rove.
But of course, if not enough machines were allocated, at least people could vote on paper ballots, right? Wrong. Only 100 paper ballots were sent to Pea Ridge, where almost 4,000 people are supposed to vote. They were out of paper ballots by 10:00 AM. The local election judges requested more paper ballots at once- and were later given about 30.
I am not sure if the Election Commission gets the blame for the lack of paper ballots. Public officials seem to be pushing citizens away from paper ballots against our will. Remember that firms make lots of money selling and servicing voting machines. Voting machines have lobbyists, paper ballots do not. Still, only 100 ballots available for almost 4,000 potential voters? Voting machine can, and did, break down. If more had broken down, it would have been a catastrophe to have so few paper ballots.
This does not even consider what has happened since election night. Hand counting of ballots seems to be a lost art. As of Sunday night, we still don't have certified totals. But what really has me upset was my sick wife waiting in that line in the cold for four hours, along with my friends and neighbors. The idea that someone might have put them through that out of some desire to hold down vote totals from my home town just infuriates me. When you look at the facts, there was no good reason for it. It was easy to see, as our home town elections judges saw, that Pea Ridge should have had more machines. Maybe it was malice, or maybe, as Bonaparte said, it was merely incompetence. I can't say for sure, but I don't have to know the answer to that to know this- someone on that election commission needs to go.