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Missing election thumb drive found in County Clerk’s Office

Baxter County’s missing election thumb drive has been found.

The thumb drive, which went missing last night while the Baxter County Commission tallied the votes from each precinct, was discovered by an unknown county employee Wednesday morning on the floor of the vault in between some ballot bags in the County Clerk’s Office of the Baxter County Courthouse.

After the thumb drive was discovered, it was presented to Commissioner Bob Bodenhamer, who returned it to the Election Commission’s headquarters.

Baxter County Clerk Canda Reese refused to name the employee who found the thumb drive when asked by the Observer.

“They’re employees of my office, and they are deputized and have taken an oath, but I feel like singling my staff members out isn’t necessarily fair to them during this controversial matter,” said Reese. “The responsibility lies on me. I mean, they’re here, and their name tags are on their desks, but it really is irrelevant who found it this morning. I just try to keep them out of the drama of all of it.”

Canda Reese, County Clerk for Baxter County, presents a copy of the corrected chart that is used to help the commission program its tabulation machines at the Baxter County Courthouse. Photo by Chris Fulton/MHO.

Baxter County received a bumpy election night after a slew of mistakes and mishaps played out throughout the night.

The evening started with a technical delay after several of the thumb drives containing the election results from each precinct began to give officials an error after inserting them into the computer used for tallying all of the county’s votes.

Members of the Commission told the crowd in attendance that the computer and tabulation machines were not connected to the internet.

After working with tech support to fix the thumb drive errors, the Commission saw another delay while waiting on Big Flats and Norfork to turn in their election results. The night took another twist after election officials received the votes from Big Flats and Norfork.

Valorie Statton, an election worker, and Baxter County Election Commissioner Judy Garner begin tallying the nights votes at the Baxter County Courthouse on Tuesday evening. Photo by Chris Fulton/MHO.

During what was meant to be their final tally, Election Commissioner Judy Garner noticed that they were missing Midway’s results. A hunt for Midway’s thumb drive began.

As election officials began looking for the thumb drive, Garner called Midway’s poll judge and confirmed that the thumb drive had been delivered to the Baxter County Courthouse.

“She said she had one in a silver box, and she said she gave the thumb drive and the tape to a lady down there,” said Garner.

The poll judge’s name was not given to the press or the crowd after requests. Commissioners were unclear on which woman took the thumb drive after it allegedly arrived at the courthouse.

Commissioners were only able to find Midway’s summary tape and ballots. That same summary tape, containing Midway’s election results, was then left in the women’s bathroom of the courthouse by Garner, further placing Midway’s election material outside of the Commission’s chain of custody.

Commissioners then made the decision to rescan Midway’s ballots through a reset tabulation machine at the courthouse and load the results on a new thumb drive.

The Observer confirmed that the machine had been reset and contained no election data on it. Election equipment and materials were left in the lobby of the courthouse and were mostly unattended throughout the night.

After it was determined that the thumb drive was indeed missing, an unknown person called Arkansas’s State Election Commission about what was happening in Baxter County.

The State Commission noted that the Baxter County Election Commission is required by law to keep track of all election materials, including the thumb drives and that the thumb drive must be found. When asked about the legal ramifications of a missing drive, the State Commission said that criminal charges are only filed for lost ballots.

The Observer confirmed that the results of the rescan matched the original summary tape for Midway’s polling location.

The events of last night’s elections have drawn the attention of other media outlets. KY3’s Noah Tucker covered the county’s election scandal during the station’s evening coverage, using both audios from KTLO and photos from the Observer.

That story can be found here.

After breaking the missing thumb drive story during last night’s elections, several community and county leaders reached out to the Observer and said that they would be looking into how a mistake like this happened.

“It is what it is,” said Reese. “It definitely brought to light some corrections of issues that need to be addressed by the Commission.”

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