The Jefferson County Election Commission certified the June 12 Democratic preferential primary elections Friday afternoon, but not without controversy.

The Jefferson County Election Commission certified the June 12 Democratic preferential primary elections Friday afternoon, but not without controversy.

Commission Chairman Trey Ashcraft stressed that the panel was simply meeting its obligation to approve the voting numbers within a 10-day period, “not to endorse the outcomes.” But there were indications from some audience members that the elections might draw challenges.

“When you certify these votes, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your faces with this community,” said Rev. James Murry of Pine Bluff. “This community is disgruntled.”

Murry is displeased that at least 68 voters who are listed as having marked Republican ballots in the May 22 primary apparently unlawfully participated in the all-Democratic runoff. He noted that the Watson Chapel Baptist Church polling place allowed 16 crossover votes.

Murry said he believes the action was a concerted effort to “overthrow the election, overthrow the government”

“You can’t put this on the county clerk’s office,” Murry told the commission. “The buck stops with you. I believe you’re reasonable and prudent, but you’re just blowing smoke at us (with the certification).”

Ashcraft and fellow Commissioner Stu Soffer said they’re not attempting to put “blame” on County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson and her staff in regard to any voting irregularity.

“The county clerk has an election staff of just three people,” Ashcraft said. “They’ve done a really good job.”

Ashcraft believes poll workers are responsible for allowing the crossovers to occur. He initially said that the workers in question would be fired, but later softened his stance in agreement with Soffer. Pointing out that the commission is not an investigative party, Ashcraft said the panel wants to learn what precipitated the errors. Soffer thinks a primary cause may be small type that made party identification abbreviations of “R” for Republican and “D” for Democratic difficult to read on voter identification lists.

“I would say that our average poll worker is 65,” Soffer said, “and their eyesight may have weakened over time.”

Murry, who said he believes nepotism plays a role in the problems, didn’t show any sympathy.

“You need to get rid of inept poll workers,” he said.

“Marking ‘R’ and ‘D’ has nothing to do with my office,” Johnson said in a post-meeting telephone interview.

Pine Bluff Alderman Glen Brown said problems in the voting process here are nothing new.

“We’ve had so many discrepancies over the years,” Brown said. He cited a personal experience in a past quorum court race as an example and engaged in a brief exchange with Soffer, during which each accused the other of being “out of order.”

Brown argued that the election should be declared “invalid.”

Soffer said he believes the crossover votes are reflective of “a systematic problem.”

“It didn’t happen for the first time this year,” Soffer said. “I think what they call it is a ‘perfect storm.’”

The commission also heard from Jeff Edwards of Pine Bluff, who said he’s grown tired of “some incident happening in nearly every election.”

Edwards said commissioners should “share with this community some of the things you’re going to address and how you will remedy these situations.”

Soffer and Ashcraft pledged that the panel will correct and learn from any past problems and continue to move forward in a positive manner. Election Coordinator Will Fox said poll workers have been “trained and retrained,” so he doesn’t believe any mistakes can be attributed to “a lack of knowledge.”

Ivan Whitfield, the Pine Bluff Police Department’s assistant chief who lost a runoff bid for a county judge’s nomination to former Pine Bluff Mayor Dutch King by 154 votes, attended the meeting but said nothing. He had earlier stated displeasure with the crossover voting, however, in a pair of letters to the commission.

In a Friday night telephone interview, Whitfield said he’s not planning to legally contest the election.

“The only way I’ll challenge is with the commission,” he said. “I don’t believe in going to court unless we would come up with the number of (crossover and possibly other contested) voters we need to win. We want the commission to determine how all of this happened and do what it needs to do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Whitfield said he wasn’t unappreciative of the commission’s efforts on Friday, but didn’t leave the meeting content.

“I’m never satisfied when there are so many issues at hand,” he said.

Retired Sheridan educator Dorothy Hall, defeated by Jefferson County Judge Mike Holcomb in a runoff for the state House of Representatives District 10 nomination, told the commission that she had further checked voting records in Johnson’s office and found 14 additional crossover voters, bringing the total to 82. Ashcraft said the commission had confirmed only the original 68. Hall said she also determined that seven ballots were somehow overlooked and uncounted.

Hall suggested that the election books from May 22 be “rescanned” to “help restore confidence in the election process here,” and that “someone needs to observe” the work.

“I have nothing to do with election day, period,” Johnson said in response to Hall’s comments. “She (Hall) can’t get that through her head.”

Johnson added that she “can’t make” numbers from her office match commission figures.

Hall said her data gathering has been done with one of Johnson’s deputies.

“She (Hall) would save a lot of time for herself and (a reporter) and everyone else if she would talk to me,” Johnson said.

Hall questioned commissioners and Fox on their roles, responsibilities and relationship with Johnson and her staff.

“It appears there’s a breakdown in communications between the clerk and commission,” Hall said. “I think there needs to be a system of checks and balances. The commission’s role is oversight. I’m just saying there’s a disconnect.”