Williams, Link ousted in general election

Friday, November 7, 2008

BERRYVILLE -- Most county incumbents retained their seats when a record number of voters cast ballots in the 2008 General Election.

Ousted were Carroll County Judge Richard Williams and Justice of the Peace District 2 representative Albena Link.

Winning repeat terms were Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek, State Representative Bryan King, and JPs Ron Flake and Don McNeely, according to preliminary election results.

Those results were released early Wednesday morning after a long night of ballot counting that was fraught with delays and problems -- man-made and otherwise.

Potentially undecided is a very close JP District 7 race between Democratic incumbent Tom Riddle and his Republican challenger John Reeve. Only one vote separates the two.

In a JP District 8 race that included two political newcomers, it was Republican Shannan Griffith that won with 61 percent of the vote against Democrat Linda Turner-Skinner.

There was one close race in the run for Eureka Springs council seats. Two newcomers vying for Ward 1 Position 1 were separated by three votes. They were Robert Wagner, the apparent winner with 459 votes, and Mickey Schneider with 456 votes.

The lone incumbent to seek a repeat term was Joyce Zeller, the Ward 3, Position 1 alderman. She staved off a challenge from Lany Ballance with 57 percent of the vote.

Other Eureka Springs races included: the Ward 2, Position 1 race with James DeVito winning with 639 votes over opponent Chuck Wofford's 406; and Robert Butch Berry's win of the Ward 2, Position 2 seat with 656 votes over challengers Chuck Wofford (261) and Alvin Byrd, Jr. (123).

Byrd had earlier dropped out of the race and threw his support to Berry, although Byrds's name remained on the ballot.

Nationally, president-elect Barack Obama received just 39 percent of the Carroll County vote, although he will become the 44th President of the United States with 52 percent of America's vote.

Carroll County voters okayed a state lottery, but banned individuals from adopting or fostering children if they are "cohabiting" outside a "valid" marriage.

They also re-elected U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and U.S. Congressman John Boozman.

At the local level, Carroll County Judge Williams lost his Republican bid for re-election to a Democratic challenger, Sam Barr, by 936 votes.

Republican JP Link was also beat out by a Democratic challenger, Frank Renner, by a narrow margin of 39 votes.

Williams said he was surprised by Link's defeat, and by the close JP race between John Reeve and Tom Riddle, saying he thought Reeve would win by a substantial lead instead of losing by one vote.

As for himself, Williams said he was surprised he didn't win, and was disappointed.

He said his effort to build a new county courthouse was likely the reason.

"The courthouse was a big issue," he commented.

Williams contends that his opponents plan to save money by "putting off" the building of a new courthouse, and spend that money instead in rent payments that go to Levi Phillips.

Phillips is a Democrat and the county election commission chairman who owns buildings that the county rents for various reasons.

Williams went on to say that his opponent Sam Barr made "a lot of promises" during the campaign, promises "he won't be able to keep."

Williams said he would do all he could to make the transition for Barr easy because that was "the professional and proper thing to do."

As for his future in politics, Williams said he didn't know if he would seek public office again, that he planned to concentrate his efforts on his Holiday Island Phillips 66 business and on his farm south of Green Forest.

"And I plan on enjoying life a little more," he said. "I've put a lot of time into this job as county judge."

Williams confirmed that Attorney Rachel Runnels, who was at the courthouse to oversee the election process, was there at his request, and was supported in part by fellow Republican Bryan King.

Election workers had planned to start counting absentee ballots mid-day Tuesday, then begin counting early votes.

Those plans were dashed when Runnels reportedly insisted upon examining each of the 397 absentee ballots.

A total of eight absentee ballots were challenged during the lengthy three hour process. All were ballots from voters who claimed they were unable to vote on election day because of illness or physical disability.

Runnels reportedly wanted a doctor's note to confirm the affliction, although state election officials, when consulted, said they had never heard of such a request, an election worker related.

However, those who voted absentee claiming they would be "unavoidably absent" were not challenged, the worker said.

When tabulation did get underway hours later, a ballot printing glitch held up the process.

According to Election Coordinator Cathy Ellis, an inked black block in the upper left hand corner of some paper ballots did not contain enough ink to satisfy the counting machine.

When she called Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the company that provides the electronic voting machines, software, and printed paper ballots, she said they immediately suggested she try filling in the box with a black marker.

Each ballot requiring added ink also required a minimum of three initials from election workers and poll watchers before they were put through the ballot counting machine again.

The same held true for ballots submitted by voters who didn't fill in their ovals properly.

Ellis said it was a long night, there were two counting machine "techs" on hand the entire time, Ralph and Rose, with the Department of Information Systems, who were "real troopers," helping to keep all systems operational.

The final tally came in at 3:49 a.m.

A record 10,682 Carroll County voters cast ballots in the election, representing 74 percent of the electorate.

Nearly 30 percent of those voters cast ballots early.

The Carroll County Election Commission was set to meet Friday morning to consider any recount requests in tight races, Runnels' contested absentee ballots, and rule on other "provisional" ballots.

Those other "provisional" ballots include some cast on election day by voters who were challenged by poll workers because they didn't have proper identification, or had other issues that raised eligibility questions.

For complete local election results, check back here at our website.

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