Thursday, November 07, 2013

Benton County Election's Continued Improprieties

Benton County has long been a sore spot in the state when it came to election irregularities. Several election employees were fired subsequent to 2011, and the County Judge attempted a re-organization in 2012.

It did not help. The 2012 November elections were a fiasco in Benton County. Due to an anticipated shortage of voting machine and a refusal of the County Clerk's office and the election commissions to provide a significant and reasonable number of paper ballots, voters were stuck in poll lines until after midnight, and official results were not announced for many days after the election. The locations of the worst voting lines were areas of the county where two independent candidates, me one of them, would be expected to do well. That raises the question of whether the fiasco was due to simple incompetence on the part of election officials or something more sinister.

Embarrassing information continues to come out about the 2012 election. I had a young lady who was a poll worker contact me. She said that she and her friends early-voted on the Friday before the election, but when she opened the poll book for her precinct it showed her as "not voting." She could have voted twice, once early and once on election day. On election day at least, it would not have been caught. This opens up the door to huge election fraud, because it means that a group of insiders could vote twice and there would be no way for poll workers to stop them. It creates the appearance of impropriety because only a small inner circle at the County Clerk's office would be able to spot it.

The Election Sheriff told my friend that they print the books early "to get a jump on the paperwork" and that we have to let people vote if they come to vote. My friend was so concerned about this that she called the Clerk's office up on a school tax election, one with small turnout whose fate could easily be decided by a few double-voters. They basically blew her off and said they did not know what she was talking about.

Well, I had an informal chat with an employee of the Secretary of State's Office not long after my friend's report. The employee confirmed that if people early vote on Monday, the day before the election, there will be no record of their vote on the voter books because they are printed up the day before. This is well known to political insiders. The employee said that the County Clerks do not like Monday voting for that reason, and asked the legislature to ban it, but the legislature was in no mood to shorten early voting time. When I told Employee that the people I was talking about early-voted not on Monday, but on the Friday before the election, Employee was taken aback and described that as improper election procedure that needed to be corrected.

Employee further said that the County Clerks were supposed to refer double-voters to the Prosecuting Attorney for felony prosecution. I strenuously protested that protection of the integrity of the process then relied on a small group of insiders doing the right thing in secret. What I meant was, say a single party dominated a county, like it does in Benton County, and say 100 prominent citizens, or even non-prominent, voted for the person of the same party as the Clerk.

It would be up to the Clerk's office to go back and see if any early voters double-voted. If they were corrupt, or even just lazy, they would simply not report the double-voters. And even if they were both competent and honest, all they would do would be to refer charges to the prosecutor, who is also an insider and could quietly drop the charges (as happened in Eureka Springs about a decade ago when the Mayor double-voted in his own primary run-off). So this "protection" of the integrity of the system would rely on not one but two political offices acting with them utmost competence and integrity.

Sadly, we live in a state where much of the ruling class has a skewed idea of morality where instead of impartiality being the standard of justice, people in the club are supposed to "take care of one another" when they act against the interests of the public at large. That mind set has kept our state down when it should be among the most prosperous in the union, but I digress.

Employee agreed that this was a problem and said that their office wanted to start using electronic election books that were not susceptible to this problem. I am a fan of paper ballots, but since the current voter books are just print offs of a data base anyway, I think the idea of electric voter books would be an effective way to close the door on this potential way to abuse the process. I feel a lot differently about using electronic voting to count the votes though.

Maybe some "real journalist" and not a blogger, could FOIA Benton County Prosecutor Vann Stone and ask if the County Clerk has ever referred anyone for prosecution for double voting like that, and if so how were those cases disposed of? Perhaps they can ask the County Clerk who in her office is responsible for checking for double-voters from early voting? Where did they sign off saying that none were detected, or if some were detected, how many were referred to the prosecutor as is required by state law?

And regardless of any of that, elections in Benton County need to be conducted in a more transparent manner than they have been the last few cycles. If they can't get and master electronic voter books, at least the printouts for voter books should be done on Monday, and not the previous Thursday or Friday. In addition, media should be invited in the room when the check is done (if a check has even been done) for double-voters from early voting on Monday and election day.

In a civilized society we resolve our differences with ballots not bullets. That's why people must have the utmost confidence that our elections are being conducted honestly and transparently. People who would cheat on elections are therefore the most dangerous kind of criminal in our society, and should face the harshest possible civil penalties. If we only had one rope and a choice between a crooked election judge and a meth dealer, we should hang the crooked judge. It's that important.

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