The majority-Republican Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners on Monday accused Democratic Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Johnson of violating state voting laws on the first day of early voting. Johnson denied the charges and said the commissioners were retaliating for her refusal to fire a poll worker to whom they objected.
The election commission called an emergency meeting Monday to discuss early voting problems. Commissioner Stuart Soffer said voting machines were placed too close together so that voters could see their neighbors’ screens; that employees of Jefferson Title Company working next door were improperly walking through the voting room; and that “zero tape” — a paper list that proves machines have not been voted on prior to an election — was not posted on the wall of the polling room before voting started, as required by state law.
He also charged that poll workers were improperly asking voters first if they wanted to provide identification rather than for their name, date of birth and address; that a poster on the wall from the University of Arkansas School of Public Policy violated laws against the posting of campaign literature; and that the machine designated for voters with disabilities did not have the required space around it to be accessible.
Christian Adcock, a representative of the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, attended the emergency election commission meeting Monday and said that in his opinion, the room is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Johnson denied that the voting machines were too close together and said a state statute allows for workers walking to their place of business to pass polling places without stopping. She said she did not know about the poster Soffer complained of. She said the area around the voting machines had never been measured, but said she had never received a complaint from a voter before.
Soffer said his complaint about zero tape had been resolved. The tape was posted after the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office called and instructed poll workers how to print it after voting started.
The commission voted 3-0 Monday to inform Johnson of their complaints by submitting them to Jefferson County Attorney Jackie B. Harris. They also suggested moving the voting area to the roomier courthouse rotunda.
“We can’t tell [Johnson] what to do,” said Mike Adam, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners. “She’s an elected official. I guess somebody could take her to court. Something has to be done, but I don’t know the answers yet.”
Johnson responded that Soffer and Adam only began to complain after she refused to fire a poll judge she picked because security video after the runoff election ended showed that individual “engaged in questionable activity.” Soffer said previously that the state board of elections was investigating the matter.
“Once I told them that wasn’t going to happen, the attacks started,” Johnson said.
She maintains that the man, who worked at the polls Monday, did nothing wrong and that the state board of elections has sent the clerk’s office letters saying so.
Republicans Soffer and Adam, who serve on the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners with Democrat Cynthia Sims, have clashed repeatedly with Johnson in recent months about the placement of voting machines and the hiring of poll workers.
Soffer previously said Johnson hired five extra workers for extra voting during the recent school election, despite a state law which says that any additional poll workers over the one authorized must be approved and paid for by the Jefferson County Quorum Court. He also alleged that when the election commission refused to pay those workers, Johnson allegedly contacted the White Hall School District to pay either her or them, rather than reimburse the county.
Soffer said previously that the room in the Jefferson County Courthouse where early voting is conducted can only handle about six voting machines. Johnson gave the election commission permission to run early voting for the March primary, and they put 17 machines in the courthouse rotunda. More than 5,800 people voted “without incurring any lines for the first time in many years,” Soffer said.
Between 5 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Monday, the Commercial observed voting at the courthouse. More than 1,085 people had voted, poll workers said.
There were no lines to vote, although the Commercial observed employees in the clerk’s office begin conversations with voters by asking if they would like to provide identification, as Soffer alleged.
The voting machine designated for voters with disabilities appeared to be three feet away from a wall and three feet from the door to the voting room, rather than the five feet required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Commercial observed a person in a wheelchair vote at the machine and leave without a poll worker having to move it.
It was not clear by looking at the room if voters could see one another’s screens. No workers from the title company were observed going through the voting area. Poll worker Gary McClure said he had not received any complaints about the setup of the voting machines aside from Soffer’s.