Arkansas' election commissioners on Thursday formally accepted findings holding current and former members of the Pulaski County Election Commission legally responsible for several election law violations that occurred during the 2020 election.
A monthslong investigation into overlapping complaints made about election issues in Pulaski County made four findings that constituted probable cause for election law violations: the inclusion of 327 disqualified ballots in the total count, the failure to certify accurate results, the failure to maintain proper ballot security and the failure to timely and accurately report unofficial election results that included an account of outstanding ballots.
As a result of the investigation, the GOP-controlled state Board of Election Commissioners voted to issue three letters of reprimand and one letter of caution to the three people who comprised the commission during the election: Republicans Evelyn Gomez and Kristi Stahr and Democrat Joshua Price. Gomez and Price have since left the commission; Stahr is now the chairwoman.
Letters of reprimand were also issued to Bryan Poe, the county's director of elections at the time, and assistant elections director Shawn Camp. Catherine Dunlap, an election worker, was issued a letter of caution, a less-harsh sanction.
Gomez and Stahr didn't accept the offers of settlement, triggering a civil hearing that took place last week to consider the allegations. After several hours of fact-finding and testimony, the state board voted to downgrade its initial sanctions to letters of warning for including disqualified ballots in the total, count, failing to certify accurate results and failing to maintain proper ballot security. It upheld the issuance of letters of caution for failing to report timely and accurate unofficial election results that included an account of outstanding ballots.
Attorneys for Gomez and Stahr argued last week that their clients should not be found to have violated election law. Both women testified about contentious relationships with election workers, over whom County Judge Barry Hyde has hiring and firing authority.
According to the order approved by the state board Thursday, the respondents have "a legal responsibility to ensure legal compliance with election laws of Arkansas."
The state agency's investigation found that the Nov. 10 ballot tabulation included 327 disqualified ballots, and the processing was done in such a way that the disqualified ballots could not be identified and removed from the totals. Commissioners later voted to certify the results of the race for state House District 32, where the winner was disputed because of the inclusion of the disqualified ballots.
The investigation also found that Pulaski County election commissioners did not provide election night reporting that contained the number of outstanding and provisional ballots to the secretary of state.