Just months away from a primary election in May, members of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners voted to de-certify Election Coordinator Efrem Elliott during a meeting at the Election Center on Thursday. Ever since his appointment by Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV in October of 2017, members of the board and Elliott have been at odds.
“We sent the county judge a letter asking him to terminate the coordinator,” said Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer. “We need to un-certify him as an election official, and I make the motion that we de-certify Efrem Elliott as an election official based on no performance of assigned duties.”
Soffer also said that Elliott turned in his keys to the Election Center to Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter, leading him and Adam to believe he resigned. Hunter represents the board on legal matters. Questioning the validity of Soffer's claim that Elliott resigned, Commissioner Cynthia Sims asked Adam and Soffer what proof they had.
“That's what I understand that he told Kyle, and that was the understanding… I don't know,” Adam said to Sims. “But, either way, he didn't perform anything. So, this is a clean-up.”
The motion to “de-certify” Elliott won 2-1, with Sims being outvoted by Adam and Soffer. With a prepared letter, Wilkins addressed the board's concerns regarding Elliott.
“I want to announce to the commission that despite several inaccurate statements as to the resignation of Mr. Elliott as election coordinator, he continues to hold this position,” the judge said. “If for some reason there was a misunderstanding around his actions of turning in his keys to legal (counsel), I apologize and regret this misunderstanding.”
In the past, Adam and Soffer have pleaded with Wilkins to employ Julie Kendrick as an election clerk to assist with various duties related to the upcoming elections. Wilkins said he would be willing to hire Kendrick, but with stipulations associated.
“This tentative approval is contingent upon the willingness of the election commission and Ms. Kendrick to coordinate her hours with the election coordinator in which he would be present at these times and participating in the process,” he said.
In strong opposition, Soffer voiced his concern about the request from Wilkins.
“She doesn't need someone in here looking over her shoulder, judge, when she's doing her job,” Soffer said.
Not coming to a mutual decision on the issue, Adam suggested that the board's legal counsel review Wilkins' letter before agreeing to his demand.
“I came to you tonight with a compromise to do what you want to do in order to get it (election preparation) started, because you told me that you're behind schedule,” Wilkins said. “We had what I thought was a productive meeting, and out of that I come with something that I feel gives each side an opportunity to move forward.”
In a unanimous vote, the board approved a motion to select and appoint Julie Kendrick and LaTasha Johnson as election clerks. Judge Wilkins also said that he was in the “process of re-negotiating the election coordinator status in terms of pay, person and hours.”
Elliott, who was in attendance, made no statements during the meeting.
Other items on the agenda included the Pine Bluff School Board election resolution. According to the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners, Pine Bluff and White Hall School districts have requested to have their elections during the May primary, while Watson Chapel has opted to conduct theirs in November.
“It's creating a problem all across the state, and some election commissions are actually having to setup two polling places with two sets of voting machines with the old equipment to accommodate it,” Soffer said. “We've asked them not to do this. It's going to cost the school districts more money, but the Association of School Boards recommended they do it, because less people will come out to vote in May than in November… .”
In addition to more money, Soffer and Adam added that voters would have to wait longer to cast their ballot, and it would take longer to close out voting machines, thus final results would be in later if the elections took place in May. Initially, Soffer volunteered to talk to the various school districts about the benefits of waiting until November. But, Sims rallied for the commissioners to construct a letter outlining the board's plea from the districts to host their election in November rather than in May. The motion to send a letter was approved by all.
The board also made a motion to request a supplemental budget appropriation in the amount of $21,953.00. The board has already been allotted $94,672.00 for 2018. However, they contend that amount will only get them through the primary election despite having a general election in November and a potential run-off election.
“We need to have the supplement by the second of May, so we can appoint poll workers,” Soffer said. “We have enough money to do everything but pay election officials. But if they give us the appropriation by early February or the first week in February, I believe we can bring $33,000.00 advance reimbursement into the general fund to help the cash flow of the county.”
In another united vote, the board agreed to send a letter to Wilkins asking him to disable the audio component and security cameras in both offices and secure rooms, kitchen, work room, and the first room behind the front meeting room at the Election Center.
In the letter, which was provided to The Commercial, the board requests that the changes be made at the “earliest opportunity, but no later than Jan. 11 (2018) to avoid further violation of the statue” adding that the violations are a “misdemeanor offense under Ark. Code Ann. 5-4-401 and 5-16-101.
“We found out that the security systems are audio, and there's a pretty couple strict statues on that,” Soffer said.
The letter went on to say that the board had no “objection to retaining video monitoring of both entrances, the front meeting room and what is commonly referred to as the ERM room,” suggesting that the ERM camera be routed to a large screen monitor for public viewing of election results.