VAN BUREN — Chad Puryear of Hindsville held on to his lead in the State House District 25 Republican primary after a recount in Crawford County on Wednesday, but opponent Jody Harris of Fayetteville did not rule out a legal challenge.
Harris called for recounts after trailing Puryear by six votes out of 4,412 cast in the unofficial election results on primary night, 2,203 to 2,209. District 25 includes parts of three counties, requiring a recount in each. A provisional ballot each in Washington and Franklin counties added a total of two votes to Puryear in those counties’ recounts.
Crawford County Board of Elections Chairman Bill Coleman acknowledged in an interview Wednesday during the recount that some mail-in ballots were mishandled. The error made no difference to the final tally, and a poll watcher for Harris oversaw the counting of those mail-in ballots on primary night, he said.
Puryear and Nate Bell, a former state legislator and adviser to Puryear’s campaign, said there weren’t enough mail-in votes involved to change the result. Harris’ attorney, Clint Lancaster of Benton, argues otherwise.
According to Lancaster and Coleman, a duplicate is made of any absentee ballot that does not pass correctly through the vote counting machines. Absentee ballots are often creased or otherwise creased as they pass through the mail. Additionally, some mail-in ballots with the wrong barcodes were sent out before the error was discovered, Coleman said.
This happened because the reshuffling of legislative constituencies last year left errors in electoral boundaries. Properly cast absentee ballots had to be duplicated on new ballots with the correct barcodes on them, he said. In all, 13 District 25 ballots were involved, but only eight of those ballots included votes cast in that race.
Clean duplicates are counted per machine. The proper procedure is to stamp “duplicate” on the reproduced ballot and “void” on the original in such cases. This allows the vote to be verified later. It was not done, Coleman said.
“It was part of our training, but it was the one thing we didn’t do that we probably should have done,” he said.
Another problem, according to Lancaster, is that mail-in ballots are supposed to be counted first, according to state law.
“There’s a reason for that,” Lancaster said. “If there’s a problem, it’s probably going to be with the mail-in ballots. That’s why it’s the law to count them first, so if there’s a problem, you can take action. to fix it. Instead, they counted the absentees last.”
Harris said voters deserve a transparent counting process and the Crawford County results failed in that regard.
“I will continue to pursue truth and transparency,” she said.
Lancaster said his client had the option of challenging the results in Pulaski County or Crawford Courts, but no decision has been made.
“We’re talking about eight ballots, not 13,” Puryear said.
The tally among those eight ballots was five to three in his favor, he and Bell said. Harris should have been the voter’s choice in all eight disputed polls for the issue to make a difference, they said.
Lancaster argues that there is no reason to believe the correct number of ballots were counted and counted correctly.
President Coleman is the brother of State Rep. Bruce Coleman, R-Mountainburg, a Puryear’s supporter. Bruce Coleman donated $1,000 to Puryear’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Their family connection had no influence on the results tally, Bill Coleman said.