NORTHWEST ARKANSAS — Tuesday could have been worse for the Benton County Election Commission.
To the commission’s credit, it apparently got all the ballots counted. The final results came long after most people had gone to bed Tuesday, but as of this writing, no one had challenged those results.
Thankfully, the commission avoided a repeat of its performance in the last mid-term election. Back in 2006, four different vote counts yielded four different sets of results. Voter turnout was initially reported as 49 percent, then changed to 83 percent, then ratcheted back downto 51 percent. When two candidates requested recounts of electronic ballots in their races, the Election Commission discovered a disk containing votes that previously had not been counted. It was a comedy - or, rather, a tragedy - of errors. So, yes, by Benton County standards, Tuesday’selection went relatively smoothly. It should also be noted that, according to unofficial numbers, 53,137 Benton County residents turned out to vote in this election - a 9.2 percent increase from 2006. That’s a lot of votes to process. Nevertheless, we observed problems that the commission should learn from and work to avoid in the future.
Our chief concern was the lack of paper ballots. Last November, amid speculation that Benton County intended to go all-electronic for the 2010 election, a commission member assured the public that there was no intent to deprive people of their right to vote with a paper ballot.
We applauded that declaration. Nevertheless, there were some Benton County voters who requested paper ballots on Tuesday, but were denied them. One Cave Springs man said an election worker told him paper ballots were not being used at his polling site. Election Commission Chairman Bill Williams said the commission ordered 13,642 paper ballots for last week’s election - a number based on how many paper ballots were used in this year’s primary election and the estimated turnout for Tuesday.
Either the commission underestimated the paper demand, or election workers were too quick to hand out paper ballots in their efforts to shrink the lines waiting for voting machines.
Williams told us people are not entitled to paper ballots.
However, there are those who prefer paper because they don’t trust the machines. Those people deserve the peace of mind the paper ballot provides them. There’s no excuse for failing to provide paper ballots. The commission also had problems with the machines because their internal clocks were on standard time, not Daylight Saving Time, which forced officials to bring numerous machines back to the commission offices to be closed and processed. If the clocks caused problems for any other county, we’re not aware; how did it happen here? Lastly, the commission did not have final totals for the night until 2 a.m.
Wednesday. That’s late. Aren’t voting machines supposed to quicken the pace at which election results are finalized?
This commission did a good job on the May primary election, but it took a step backward this month.
Commissioners need to take a hard look at what went wrong and concentrate on making the necessary fixes.