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Election-law violation in Pulaski County accepted

Board approves issuing letter of warning for clerk by Rachel Herzog | July 2, 2021 at 6:49 a.m.
FILE — 'I Voted' stickers for early voters at the Benton County Election Commission office in Rogers in this Nov. 3, 2018, file photo.

Arkansas' election commissioners Thursday formally accepted the findings of fact and conclusions of law that came out of a hearing over whether the Pulaski County clerk's office violated state law when an error by a deputy clerk assigned several voters to the wrong precinct.

After a roughly seven-hour hearing on June 23, the state Board of Election Commissioners voted 5-1 that the mistake was a violation of state law, and separately voted 5-1 to issue a letter of warning to Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth.

On Nov. 5, 2020, a west Little Rock couple filed a complaint with the state board, alleging they were told that, despite living at the same address for more than 20 years, they weren't on the polling roster for the Martindale Baptist Church polling location and instead needed to vote at a site in North Little Rock.

Documents from the agency's investigation show that a deputy clerk, N'ell Jones, was assisting with inputting data into the county's voter registration system on Oct. 30 when she erroneously changed a street segment from one precinct to another, affecting 22 registered voters.

Jones testified last week that she had expressed concerns about working in the system, which she was tasked with due to a staff shortage resulting from a covid-19 exposure, and didn't receive any additional training.

The final order adopted Thursday states that "the act of a deputy clerk which caused the precinct assignment of voters to be changed from the correct precinct to an incorrect precinct in the precinct voter registration list is a violation of legal requirements of the Clerk under Ark. Code Ann. § 7-5-110."

That law requires the county clerk to "prepare precinct voter registration lists that identify the district, subdistrict, county, municipality, ward, and school zone in which each voter is qualified to vote."

Hollingsworth had refused the board's initial, harsher sanction, a letter of reprimand. Attorneys for the clerk argued last week that the mistake did not amount to a violation of the law, because polling sites have paper poll books that could have been used to verify the couple's precinct, and that covid-19 should have been considered as a mitigating factor.

Because Pulaski County established vote centers for the 2020 election, poll workers were instructed to use electronic poll books to look up voters, according to the order's outline of the case.

The state board voted to adopt the order outlining the findings and conclusions without discussion or dissent at a special meeting Thursday, completing the final step in the administrative hearing process.

The board's decision can be appealed in court up to 30 days after the vote. Attorneys for Hollingsworth had not done so as of Thursday evening, according to online court records.

Print Headline: Election-law violation finding accepted

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