Rep. King to seek election monitors for next election

Saturday, August 2, 2008

CARROLL COUNTY -- In a press release issued this week, State Rep. Bryan King said he will request state and federal election monitors to oversee polling in November.

King said voters will decide whether or not to consolidate the two existing courthouses into one new facility in Berryville, although the Quorum Court has not yet voted to place that measure on the ballot.

A new courthouse could include space for all county and state offices, eliminating the current leasing of facilities such as the Department of Human Services, the Revenue Office, and other agencies.

King's press release said, "One individual who profits from this arrangement is Carroll County Election Commission Chairman and County Democrat (sic) Party Chairman Levi Phillips." 

King said Phillips collects more than $85,000 per year from the county and the state for leasing buildings to government offices. As a member of the CCEC, Phillips has "a direct conflict of interest," according to King.

King said Phillips "is in a position to oversee and potentially influence election issues that directly affect his personal finances by millions of dollars." King said the courthouse consolidation issue on the ballot requires "unbiased officials involved in the election process."

In an interview on Wednesday, King said, "I think it's very clear that (Phillips) has tried to use his position to influence elections."

Although Phillips can not directly use his position with the CCEC to influence the award of leases, King said, "Being over the election commission means he has influence over the voting, and getting people elected who are favorable to him would be a plus."

With so much money at stake, King said Phillips should voluntarily step aside from his position with the CCEC.

County Judge Richard Williams agreed with King's assessment. He compared the situation to that of a judge with a possible conflict of interest, who "should recuse to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Williams has spoken out in the past against the CCEC renting storage space for voting machines from Phillips. Although the county judge can not directly intervene in the election commission's choice of a storage facility, Williams said the situation with Phillips renting space to the CCEC violates state laws.

Neither Williams nor King suggested that Phillips has charged the county or the state more than other leasors might charge, and King admitted that the state's process in awarding and renewing leases has some serious flaws. "I don't think the bidding process is totally open and competitive," he said. "I think it's peculiar that one person in a small rural county in Arkansas has received more than a million dollars out of state leases." 

Polling sites

King's press release also condemned the practice of reducing the number of polling places for special elections and run-off elections. He sponsored a bill in the last legislative session requiring a unanimous vote of the three election commissioners before polling places could be consolidated. Until Act 694 became law, only a majority vote of the commissioners was required. The CCEC has two Democratic Party commissioners and one from the Republican party.

King said closing rural sites can "diminish the peoples' right to vote." He also specifically pointed to closing the Holiday Island polling place as an attempt to minimize that heavily Republican area.

The county does not save money by reducing the number of polling sites, King said, because the state pays most of the cost of elections.

Phillips was not available for comment on King's statements. Although he was the only leasor mentioned specifically by King, the county also leases space from other property owners for the Adult Probation offices and the office of the Circuit Judge, among others.

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