Shortly before 4 a.m. this morning, the Pulaski County Election Commission added previously uncounted absentee and provisional in-person ballots to unofficial vote totals and the result put Democrat Ashley Hudson ahead of Republican Rep. Jim Sorvillo in the race for House District 32 in Little Rock.
Hudson, who had trailed by 44 votes, is now leading Sorvillo by 25 votes, 8,403 to 8,378.
In another closely watched race, Democrat Matthew Stallings drew closer, but not ahead of Republican Rep. Carlton Wing of North Little Rock. Stallings had trailed by 51 votes. The unofficial count now has Wing ahead by 16 votes, 7,099-7,083.
I gave up on the meeting as it dragged on last night, so I’m lacking full details, but controversy likely lies ahead.
As I wrote yesterday, these two races had already been marked by partisan divisions and the tension grew higher with the discovery that election staff had mistakenly counted 327 invalid absentee ballots in the countywide results. They were ballots mistakenly placed in a box indicating a signature statement had overcome lack of photo ID, but these ballots actually had other deficiencies and shouldn’t have been counted. It is impossible to separate those ballots from the count once counted.
Late yesterday, election officials said they had been able to determine how many invalid ballots had been counted in the two closest races. According to Election Commissioner Joshua Price, 32 invalid ballots were counted in the District 32 race and 37 in District 38. But it is impossible to know how they were voted. The invalid ballots could be determined from voter statements that had been separated from the ballot envelope when it came time for processing.
Given the narrow margins, the invalid ballots could have affected the outcomes in both races in either direction. I expect a Republican lawsuit if the commission ultimately certifies the results as they stand with Hudson the winner. The next commission meeting is Tuesday, where recounts are expected to be requested in these two races.
Here’s what we know about what finally happened yesterday.
Most of the vote changes came from 1,108 provisional ballots added to countywide numbers. These were ballots cast in-person, either in early voting or election day, where questions about registration were raised. They were cleared for counting by the county clerk’s office and much of last night’s meeting was spent reviewing the spreadsheet of voters cleared.
The commission also approved the addition of 168 absentee ballots that had to be remade because the scanner couldn’t read them.
For what it’s worth in assessing the close races, Republicans led overall in in-person voting and Democrats in absentee voting. However, the swings in votes from last night’s additions came primarily from the addition of in-person provisional ballots. Hudson led 107 to 32 among the additions of people who voted in person, while the new absentees split 8-4 for her. In District 38, Stallings led the new provisional in-person votes 82-43 while the new absentee ballots split evenly 8-8. Overall, Hudson led in absentees 2,216 to 1,263 and Stallings led 1,284-813.
The meeting was marked by more unhappiness on the part of Republican Election Commissioners Evelyn Gomez and Kristi Stahr with Election Director Bryan Poe over discrepancies turned up as they worked through completing action on the record 25,000 absentees submitted in the last election. One bit of unhappiness was over 50 absentees presented by Poe toward the end for further commission review. Then Gomez learned they had been put aside for questioning by the commissioners themselves, as sticky notes in Gomez’s handwriting indicated.
A handful of votes remain outstanding. According to Price’s account, 12 absentee ballots were approved for counting that are not yet included in the unofficial total and nine more difficult-to-read ballots are still pending further review. It’s unknown how many, if any, were cast on the two House races.
Last night, over objections of staff, the Republican commissioners insisted on bringing in Jamie Clemmer, a Republican election commissioner in Saline County, as a consultant. He was described as a veteran election expert, though his history is that he joined the Saline Election Commission in 2018. He observed the meeting.