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County judge to form review committee after rocky end to election

Elections Director Bryan Poe is taking the blame for a mix-up that led to a couple hundred ballots slated to be thrown out ending up being counted instead.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Pulaski County Election Commission certified the final contest in the 2020 vote season Wednesday, but not before acrimony and accusations flew between Republican commissioners and the director of the process over a counting mistake.

The dispute has led to a legal challenge and calls for a revote in the race for state House District 32 in West Little Rock. Democrat Ashley Hudson prevailed over incumbent Representative Jim Sorvillo by 24 votes.

RELATED: Pulaski County Election Commission certifies all but one house race

Elections Director Bryan Poe is taking the blame for a mix-up that led to a couple hundred ballots slated to be thrown out ending up being counted instead.

The two GOP-appointed commissioners called for Poe to resign and moved to limit his powers on Monday, but two days later, Poe's boss, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, called for a bipartisan committee to review the entire election process in 2020.

"You know there's been a lot of hurdles with this election, beginning with the pandemic," Judge Hyde said. "It's apparent that they've done overall a great job. I think the election early voting went off without a hitch."

But once election night arrived and the pressure turned up, problems arose. Stacks of boxes filled with ballots facing questions or lacking required identification piled up and began to be moved around the county regional building.

Two tight races emerged in District 32 as well as District 38 in North Little Rock. After days of counting and approving provisional and absentee ballots, a nightmare scenario developed.

"We have an actual error in the counting that occurred, where 327 votes were placed in a box. It was misplaced and or mislabeled, and ended up being tallied or recorded," Judge Hyde said. 

The precinct breakdown showed enough ballots are among that 327 to alter the results in the two close races.

Rep. Sorvillo asked a circuit judge to halt Wednesday's certification and call for a completely new election in his race. In an emergency hearing, Judge Wendell Griffen dismissed the request. The case is being appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Commissioners gave Sorvillo and his attorney two days to try to get a judge's decision while certifying every other race on Monday night. During that meeting, Poe was grilled and called everything from incompetent to a fraud.

Republicans accuse Judge Hyde of protecting him while they want him fired. In response, the judge will form that bipartisan committee to sort it out, or at least he hopes it will be bipartisan.

RELATED: Pulaski Co. to double-check provisional ballots in case of residents accidentally voting twice

"I don't think that whatever conflict exists is a Republican, Democrat conflict unless folks are trying to make it that," he said. "And they may be. It's a crazy time."