With ominous signs building about implementation of a huge contract to improve voting machinery in Arkansas, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels has called in the press this afternoon to talk about the situation. He'll have the private contractor on hand to take questions, too.
Sad truth is that the story of voting machinery nationwide is littered with disasters, in part because nearly all the business is dominated by a couple of apparently inept outfits. Whoever you hire brings problems (if you hire Diebold, the high bidder in Ark., you get a company committed to electing Republicans). The companies get the money and leave, with the public official who hired them (here Charlie Daniels) holding the political bag.
UPDATE: Daniels says early voting will begin on time, but it's obvious that electronic voting will not be able to begin then in all the counties. In fact, most counties will vote early with paper ballots. He said ES&S could not complete programming and testing in time to insure accuracy on the electronic macines.
The message seems to be that ES&S didn't devote sufficient personnel to getting the job done. Rather than point fingers, however, Daniels defended the company, saying it was overextended by national demands. He predicted there will be at least one electronic machine in every precinct by primary voting day, which would meet the requirements of the new federal law intended to guarantee election access for all voters.
The ES&S man expressed regret for the day. He said the nationwide implementation of the federal law had been a challenge and the company underestimate the demands.
One more thing: Daniels remains confident that the shortage of electronic machinery and the blend of old and new machines won't jeopardize a fair count. But Republican Jim Lagrone, challenging Daniels in November, is already throwing around the word "irregularities" before voting has begun. He'll elaborate at a 3 p.m. news conference today.
UPDATE #2: State Republican Party chairman Clint Reed weighted in with this criticism of Daniels:
“This is unacceptable. The voters of this state deserve better. The American citizen’s right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution, and that freedom should never be jeopardized. It is very disturbing that the Chief Election Official of this state seems to be more concerned about the appearance of the State Capitol dome than ensuring that every voter has an opportunity to cast his or her ballot. ...
“A lack of preparation on Secretary of State Charlie Daniel’s part, does not, should not, and must not constitute a disenfranchisement of one single vote during this upcoming election.”