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State House candidate requests recount in Arkansas Delta district

By: - November 18, 2022 6:30 pm

This story was updated at 6:58 p.m. on Nov. 18, 2022, with comments from Dexter Miller.

Votes in the Arkansas House District 62 election will be recounted at Democratic candidate Dexter Miller’s request, adding another responsibility to the Phillips County Election Commission while it has been struggling to send the county’s results to the state.

The state Board of Election Commissioners received the recount request Friday morning, Director Daniel Shults said.

District 62 is comprised of Phillips and Lee counties plus portions of Arkansas, Desha, Monroe and St. Francis counties.

State Rep. Mark McElroy (R-Tillar), a Desha County resident and former county judge, campaigned in Phillips and Lee counties for the first time as a result of the redrawing of state House districts last year. McElroy was declared the winner with a 618-vote lead over Miller, according to the Secretary of State’s office website, with 83.33% of precincts reporting their results.

Phillips County had not uploaded any vote totals to the website as of Friday afternoon, Secretary of State Government Affairs Director Kevin Niehaus said.

The Helena World, Phillips County’s local newspaper, called the House District 62 race for McElroy in Wednesday’s print edition.

Miller received 400 more votes than McElroy in the usually Democratic county, not enough to surpass McElroy’s overall lead, according to results provided on paper Thursday by the Phillips County Election Commission.

The commission has finished counting votes, except 37 provisional ballots, which need more time to be verified. Chairman Wayne Boals said the recount should start and finish Monday.

The commission had to meticulously duplicate several ballots that the voting machines could not read, including all 152 absentee ballots because the machines could not process the creases in the paper from being folded and mailed, Boals said Thursday.

Miller said Friday evening that he was not certain the duplicated ballots were counted correctly during the “arduous” process. He also said he thought something was amiss about the results overall and hopes a recount will assure him that the final numbers are accurate.

“I know this district pretty well, and I think I should have won folks over, looking at the primary results [compared] to the general results,” said Miller, a resident of Helena-West Helena.

If McElroy’s win holds, he will be most likely the first Republican to represent Phillips County in the Legislature since Reconstruction, the Helena World reported.

Candidates that request recounts must do so no later than two days after the county board of election commissioners declares the unofficial results and as long as the number of absentee ballots is not enough to change the results. The two-day clock has not officially started in Phillips County because the election commission has not reported results to the Secretary of State, Shults said.

McElroy said Friday that he is confident in the initial results and does not see the need for a recount, especially after the Phillips County Election Commission’s struggles.

“If it takes them as long to recount as they did to count, I’ll be opening Christmas presents before I know anything,” McElroy said.

The commission’s delay in reporting the vote totals to the state risks violating state law. County officials are required to electronically send vote totals to the Secretary of State “immediately” after calculating the results, according to the statute. The responsibility belongs to the county election commissioners, the county clerk or an agreement between them.

Tense working relationships between county officials have contributed to the delay in reporting, Boals said.

The commissioners plan to certify the county’s results and send them via snail mail to the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday, the 15th day after Election Day and the legal deadline for certification, Boals said.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.