Results in Lonoke County races are unofficial though most of the apparent winners are known, with three offices held by Democrats usurped by Republican challengers. In other races, question marks remain for positions in the City of Lonoke council races and Lonoke Township constable, and one Cabot race may have no winner despite there being only one candidate.
On Tuesday, County Election Commission chairman Tim Blair said the 2012 voter turnout for the county is the largest on record with 23,044 votes cast. The previous high turnout was more that 18,000, Blair said.
However, more than 200 of those votes were cast on paper ballots because of a voting machine error during early voting, requiring a hand count. On Wednesday, commission member Jerry Shephard said the count could be completed by 5 p.m.
At Cabot, voters gave incumbent city councilman Patrick Hutton a 3,633-3,344 margin over challenger Dallan B. Buchanan for the ward 3 position 1 seat. However, on Oct. 26 Hutton withdrew from the race, and although Hutton is no longer a candidate for election, this leaves Buchanan with less than 50 percent of the vote cast for the position.
Under state law, an elected official holds the office until a successor is elected, the office holder resigns or becomes incapable of holding office.
In 2004, confusion with changes in filing requirements led to all the incumbent Austin City Council members missing the deadline to file for re-election. However, since no one else filed for election all the aldermen remained in office because no successor had been elected.
Last week Lonoke County Election Commission member Jerry Shepard said Hutton backed out of the election after being told of a complaint against him, based on the restrictions of the Hatch Act. Hutton did not cite a reason in his letter notifying County Clerk Dawn Porterfield that he was no longer a candidate. However, he has not resigned as councilman.
The Hatch Act limits and defines the extent to which federal and other government employees, including military members, may participate in political activities. Generally, the Act prohibits partisan activity, with provisions made for independent candidates and positions.
Hutton is employed at the Veterans Administration; Cabot City Council seats are filled by independent candidates.
Shepard said the complaint was about campaign material, and he understood Hutton’s action was to protect his employee status. But since the Hatch Act is a federal law, pursuing the complaint would not be up to the commission but for the person making the complaint, Shepard said.
Under the Hatch Act, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel investigates alleged violations. Complaints would need to be filed with OSC.
On Wednesday, Shepard said the commissioners were doing research on the situation to determine what to advise city officials.
Hutton, contacted by telephone Wednesday, said he has not decided his next course of action.
“I appreciate the support of the voters, I appreciate their confidence in my performance as a councilman. But I am not sure what would be the best thing to do [about remaining in office].”
In other election-related events, former Justice of the Peace Bill “Pete” Pedersen was arrested Friday on a misdemeanor assault complaint filed by Justice of the Peach Henry “H.L.” Lang.
According to the complaint, filed at the sheriff’s office, Lang said he was near the Cabot City Annex, sitting in a chair holding campaign signs, when he heard “What sounded like a vehicle rush up behind him” and a horn blowing.
Lang said he turned and saw a vehicle “just a couple of inches” from his chair, and saw the driver was Pedersen, who was yelling and cursing at him. The car then backed up and left the area.
On Wednesday, Pedersen said he was arrested and then released. “It was just a setup on me,” he said. Arraignment on the charge would be in early December, he said.