by Max Brantley
Polls close at 7:30 p.m. on school elections.
Not much on the local ballots — no tax increases, for example.
But there are two contested races in the Little Rock School District. Zone 7 incumbent Dianne Curry faces two opponents, Tanya Dixon and Frances Johnson; two newcomers, Laveta Wills-Hale and Michael "Pete" Peterson are running for the Zone 6 seat being vacated by Charles Armstrong, who's headed for the legislature. Leslie Plowman Fisken is unopposed to succeed Melanie Fox in Zone 3. Three North Little Rock seats are uncontested and the Pulaski District, currently under state control, has no board elections this year.
Early voting countywide produced a whopping 101 ballots.
UPDATE: Here's the early vote. Too close and too few votes to call, with Curry and Wills-Hale leading (by 3 and 1 vote, respectively). For those who care about these things, the outcome is being closely watched because John Walker, the lawyer with the decades of involvement in school litigation and other matters, supported Dixon and Wills-Hale.
UPDATE II: It's impossible to tell how much of the vote has been counted, but the Election Commission now has Tanya Dixon leading incumbent Dianne Curry 150-114 in Zone 7. and a third trailing with 19, giving Dixon a percentage sufficient to win without a runoff if the lead holds. Laveta Wills-Hale leads Michael Peterson in Zone 6 by one vote, 45-44.
UPDATE III: at 9:13 p.m., I'm told final results will be in shortly. These intermediate results lack 7 precincts.
Pitiful that seats so important will be decided on so few votes. But not unusual.
UPDATE IV: Final precincts turned things upside down.
Michael "Pete" Peterson 260
Laveta Wills-Hale 172
Dianne Curry 217
Tanya Dixon 193
Frances Johnson 25
If these numbers are certified, that leaves Curry exactly one vote shy of the majority required to avoid a runoff. Individual precinct votes are available here. A touch of irony: Curry won her first race in a runoff in 2006 over Tom Brock with an overwhelming vote in heavily minority precincts that overcame his strong lead in Otter Creek, a mixed neighborhood with many white voters. That was Curry's strongest showing in this race. She carried a 110-46 edge at two precincts that vote at a church in that neighborhood.
But the final vote won't be known until 10 days after today, the deadline for return of overseas and military ballots. Eight are outstanding in Zone 7. There's no way to know if they will be returned or not. The Election Commission will prepare for a potential runoff in the meanwhile
Some interesting behind-the-scenes politicking in the races. As I mentioned John Walker openly supported Wills-Hale and Dixon. But some of his usual allies in political efforts split from him this election, particularly to help the Peterson campaign. Peterson, a retired district administrator, was a key worker in Sen. Joyce Elliott's re-election race, a favor that reportedly produced some help for him in this race.
If a runoff comes, Curry can be expected to again raise her criticism of Dixon for failing to comply with filing requirements on a statement of financial interest and emphasize her experience in two terms on the board. Curry's recent split with other black board members on a district policy on setting targets for contracts with minority vendors was used against her in her majority black district.
PS — Though votes were only symbolic with no increases on the ballot, voters in Little Rock and Pulaski County supported the existing district tax millages.