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story.lead_photo.caption 'I Voted' stickers for early voters Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the Benton County Election Commission office in Rogers. - Photo by Ben Goff

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County Democrats on Wednesday chose Evelyn Rios Stafford to be the party's candidate for the District 12 seat on the Quorum Court.

Stafford will replace Candy Clark, who filed for the position and whose name will still appear on the ballot. District 12 covers much of southeastern Fayetteville.

The party announced late last week Clark dropped out of the race due to serious personal illness. A special convention was held Wednesday night online to choose a replacement candidate.

Stafford was chosen to make the race over Emily Sledge.

Stafford, 47, has lived in Fayetteville since 2015. She runs Blue Star Business Services, a digital marketing agency in Fayetteville.

Stafford said she has worked with the Fayetteville Housing Authority for the last two years, giving her some familiarity with local government. She also said working with the Housing Authority has given her experience with governmental budgeting.

"I know Washington County's budget is an order of magnitude greater than the Housing Authority budget but I think it's a transferable skill, Stafford said.

Stafford said working with the Housing Authority has also given some insight into the problems of the local homeless population and the knowledge will also be useful on the county level as the Quorum Court examines ways to reform the criminal justice system.

A recent report commissioned by the county from the National Center for State Courts including housing and transportation for county residents as important issues in trying to keep people arrested for failure to appear in court from crowding the county jail.

"That does cost the county money, the FTAs," Stafford said. "I understand the county is looking at ways to modernize the system, including possibly using a digital system to send notifications. That would be helpful in keeping people out of jail"

Stafford said she has reviewed the report on the criminal justice system, although not in depth. She said she supports the suggestions the county work to develop better community services for detainees who are being released to help them avoid being arrested again.

"It's important that we have these reentry services so people aren't released without a plan and wind up being rearrested for nuisance crimes or failure to appear," Stafford said.

Debby Winters, chairwoman of the executive committee of the Washington County Democratic Party, said the online convention went smoothly, with Stafford and Sledge giving brief statements and then fielding questions.

Winters said the campaign will be difficult, since Clark's name will still appear on the ballot, and with the measures in place for social distancing due to the covid-19 pandemic.

"This campaign has already been very different," Winters said. "We didn't do a lot of the things we traditionally do, like going to the Farmer's Market and the Washington County Fair. Some candidates are still knocking on doors but others don't feel comfortable doing that right now. People are doing a lot of phone calls and texting. People are doing mailers, even though mailers are expensive. It's a different world."

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Replacement candidate

Arkansas law provides for replacement candidates in the event of a candidate’s death, illness, moving out of the district or filing for another office. The political party can choose a replacement candidate either by special election or a convention. The deadline to certify each party’s list of candidates for the Nov. 3 general election was Aug. 5. State law provides if the party’s nominee is not selected in time to file his or her certification, the new candidate’s name won’t appear on the ballot, but votes cast for the candidate appearing on the ballot will be counted for the replacement candidate.

Source: State of Arkansas

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