State to monitor special east Ark. House election

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Associated Press

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 7 at 11:06 AM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A state panel voted Wednesday to send monitors to watch the polls during the special election for an east Arkansas House seat after complaints of voter fraud and irregularities that has also prompted a state police investigation.

The Board of Election Commissioners voted to send two monitors to Crittenden County for Tuesday's special election for the District 54 state House seat. The seat was vacated when former Rep. Fred Smith resigned in January after he was convicted of felony theft.

Kim Felker, who lost in the Democratic primary runoff to Hudson Hallum, and Republican nominee John Geelan asked the board to send monitors and cited problems with polls. The Arkansas State Police began investigating the claims last week after similar complaints were made to the prosecutor.

Hallum and Geelan are running against candidate D'James "Two" Rogers in the election.

Felker and Geelan told the board in letters that there weren't enough poll workers at polling sites, the sites did not open at the correct time, that more votes were cast than the number of people who were registered and that polling sites did not have backup machines.

Prosecutor Scott Ellington asked state police to investigate claims of voter fraud by Felker and a Republican member of the Crittenden County election commission. State Police said they assigned an investigator to look into the claims last week. In a letter to Ellington, Felker claimed that she received a call during the primary from someone offering her absentee ballots in the district.

The monitors will watch election procedures during the election and report on any problems to the full board, but will not be able to assist or intervene, board counsel Tim Humphries said.

"I think perhaps the county and the confidence in the election generally would benefit from having an election monitor" in Crittenden County, Humphries told the panel. Humphries told the panel that many of the issues that came up in Crittenden County come up in other parts of the state and may require more training, but said he was concerned with poll workers leaving their posts at one precinct.

The seven-member board approved the monitoring on a voice vote without any objections heard after a motion to not send any monitors failed on a 3-4 vote.

Jason Willett, who moved that the board not send monitors, said he was worried about the precedent the board would set by sending in watchers when a county has not specifically requested it.

"If this is going to be the case here, then be ready for it to happen in a lot of counties from now on," Willett said. "I think you could go into 30 to 35 counties and you can bring up the same thing that's talked about in Crittenden County that they're talking about in those counties."

County Election Commission Chairman Eric Darden said he would welcome the monitors, but said he didn't believe Geelan and Felker's complaints had any merit.

"I just wish when they come down, they could be helpful if they see my poll workers get confused on some issue that might come up and step in and assist, instead of just monitor and report," Darden said after the meeting.

The House seat is a historically Democratic district, but both parties have been focusing heavily on the race after Republicans made gains in the majority-Democrat Legislature in November. Republicans currently hold 45 of the 100 House seats.

Hallum, who attended the board's meeting, said he also welcomed the monitors to watch the election.

"I think it'll help to solidify the claim that our election commission is doing a good job," Hallum said. "I think they're right on task and they're working to correct the problems we had with the first election through training of the poll workers."

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Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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