ID requirement eliminates majority of absentee ballots cast in Tuesday’s primary

More than 80 percent of the absentee votes in St. Francis County were disqualified for Tuesday's Preferential Primary Election, but Election Commission Chairman Frederick Freeman is hopeful the state Supreme Court will take action to remedy the matter before voters head to the polls in September for the school election.

Shortly after the election results for early voting, absentee voting and the Widener precincts were announced Tuesday night, Freeman told those in attendance that 110 absentee applications had been sent out by County Clerk Emily Holley, and 102 absentee packages had been accepted back.

"As I read those results, I'm sure you noticed there were no absentee results for the Widener races. I just want to make everyone aware that we have some absentee ballots that were sent in from Widener that were not properly processed and therefore could not be counted," said Freeman.

"There were 110 absentee applications that went out from the clerk's office, and 102 were accepted back in. Of those, 19, I repeat 19, were counted and 83 were not counted due to not having identification included in the absentee ballot package," said Freeman.

"I'm sure you are aware that there was legislation passed last year that now requires voters to submit identification when they vote. It affords the voter who goes to the poll some remedy if they do not have their ID, in that they can cast a provisional ballot and provide identification before the deadline and have their vote counted,” said Freeman. “That same provision is not available to the absentee voter. A judge in Little Rock ruled that the new law was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has put that on hold. Hopefully, after seeing results like this they will address this issue before the school election in September, let alone the general election in November.”

Freeman made similar announcements several more times during the election tallying process last night and took an even stronger stance this morning.

"It is my opinion that it is a travesty that citizens who have voted year in and year out for most of their lives, some of them, as old as 100-years-old, have been denied the right to vote because of a law that was passed by our legislature last year. I sincerely hope that the Supreme Court finds this current system unconstitutional," said Freeman.

"Many of these voters already have major obstacles due to age and other limitations that limit their ability to get out to the polls. To add another barrier is one of the greatest travesties to occur from last year's legislative session," he said.

Overall, Freeman said he felt Tuesday's election went well, with the exception of an issue with the Colt polling location, which caused a delay of close to 30 minutes before the final results could be announced about 9:30 p.m.

"I thought everything went really well overall. Our core staff did an excellent job overall. In most large elections, you will have some glitches and we did with our Colt site. If not for the delay in getting the results at Colt, we likely could have been done 30 or 45 minutes earlier than we were which just goes to show how efficient things are running now that we have made the transition to all-electronic voting for early and election day voting," said Freeman.

He said the issue at Colt was not caused by poll workers at the location but an error during the equipment set up which left the site with only one voting machine for several hours.

"Our core staff only sent one machine to Colt, and it should have been two. We weren't able to get the second machine out there until around 10. We got it set up, but the addition of the second machine actually caused the issue because we have to daisy-chain those machines together. The delay in setting it up caused some confusion, but we were able to work that out," he said.

Freeman thanked all of the workers and commissioners for their efforts Tuesday saying, "Overall, I still feel like we did a great job. I want to thank my fellow commissioners and core staff for their hard work to make sure that everything ran smoothly. I'd also like to thank our coordinator, Mrs. (Sandra) Wright for the great job that she did. Our poll workers had several adjustments they had to make this year. They did a good job and also need to be praised,” said Freeman. “That said, we're still looking for more people who can come in an assist us on election day. Many of our workers have been doing this for a long time and we need to find a way to incorporate some of our younger folks into the process because none of us can do this forever.”

According to unofficial election results from Tuesday's election, 2,374 total votes were cast during the election with 1,917 Democratic votes, 390 Republican votes and 67 nonpartisan votes.

A runoff election in the Republican race for attorney general is on the horizon for election officials which Freeman said could force officials to make decisions regarding consolidating and staffing several sites around the county.

"Looking at things, it appears there may be one race. If there is only the one race, we will have to determine how we're going to staff everything and how we can consolidate some of our sites so that we have an efficient election," said Freeman.

In the unofficial results from Tuesday's election, the Forrest City Ward 1 and Madison polling sites recorded no Republican votes while the Widener polling site recorded only six Republican votes. In contrast, there were 102 Republican votes cast at the Parrot/Newcastle polling site, which was the highest total in the county, followed by Forrest City Ward 3, which had 52 Republican votes cast.

According to information from the Arkansas Secretary of State's office, with all 75 counties reporting, Leslie Rutledge received 47.26 percent of the votes for the Republican attorney general nomination followed by David Sterling, who received 39.08 percent of the vote. Patricia Nation, who received 13.67 percent of the vote, will not be included in the runoff.

The election results will be certified on Tuesday, May 27, at 5 p.m., at the courthouse. At that time, election officials will also review the five provisional ballots from Tuesday's election.