State Rep. Bryan King, R-Berryville, who recently squeaked out a victory over opponent Bill Coleman of Mountainburg in the Republican primary for the State Senate District 5 nomination, has been a little frustrated with the election process lately, and we can understand why.
King is frustrated because Arkansas law currently does not prohibit business partners, siblings or even spouses of candidates in contested races from serving on the election commissions overseeing the tabulation of votes in those very races.
Nay, it does not.
Now, there is currently a law in place that gives a candidate a vaguely described 10-day window "after the initial posting of election officials" in which the candidate may ask a commissioner to recuse him/herself from overseeing an election in which a spouse or relative in the second degree is running. But what if that initial posting of election officials occurs before a candidate files, or before a candidate becomes aware that a commissioner is related to his opponent? Or what if the election officials never changed from the last election, so no "official posting of election officials" ever takes place? Lord knows this has occurred and likely still does on a regular basis in some Arkansas counties.
What results is the potential for a conflict of interest -- and at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest.
This became an issue, unfortunately, in the primary this year when an oversight in Alma caused three ballot boxes to go overlooked and uncounted in the Tuesday primary election on May 22.
The mistake was realized sometime Wednesday morning, yet King was not notified by the Republican sitting on the Crawford County Election Commission -- who, by all accounts, is responsible for notifying his party's candidates of any ballot issues in their race.
Note: We did not say he was not notified in a timely manner; he was never notified by this election commissioner at all. And this election commissioner, Bruce Coleman -- you guessed it -- is the brother of King's opponent in the race in question.
Instead, King learned about the ballot problems from a third party -- someone unconnected from any public office there -- who first left a cell phone message for the term-limited state representative around 11:21 a.m. and finally reached him with the news around 11:45 a.m.
Bruce Coleman, when asked why he didn't contact King, originally said that King learned about the problem about the same time the election commissioners did.
If that's the case, the election commissioners in Crawford County must be severely out of touch with what's happening there, because when King learned of it, the issue was already practically solved and settled.
King explains that by the time he spoke with his source around 11:45, they already knew that the "new" ballots that had been discovered and added into the totals had reduced King's lead in the contest from 170 votes to only 33. In fact, King's source told him that the commissioners had been working on the problem all morning.
When pressed, Bruce Coleman explained that he first received a call about a potential issue with ballots sometime before 10 a.m. By the time he arrived at the courthouse and the election commissioners knew for certain that there was a problem, there were already "people working with King's campaign" there who were calling King with the information, Coleman told the Carroll County News.
"If I had called him, I would have been redundant," Bruce Coleman said. "I was getting the information to his people as quickly as I could, and they were giving it to him, was my understanding."
After talking with Bruce Coleman, we tend to believe that Mr. Coleman did not intend to withhold information from King by not calling King himself; however, given that his brother was King's opponent, we also believe he should have called King immediately upon his first knowledge of a possible problem, instead of waiting an hour or more and then communicating with a third party about the issues at hand.
Because of this appearance of a conflict of interest, we also strongly support King's new plans to propose legislation to disallow any election commissioners from overseeing contested races that involve their own family members and/or business partners.
Because, like King says, candidates as well as voters deserve an open and transparent voting process, and even the appearance of a conflict of interest falls too close to the appearance of an unjust and improper election system, especially when it can easily be avoided.
-- Kristal Kuykendall