POCAHONTAS, Ark. – Dozens gathered in downtown Pocahontas on Wednesday morning to demand answers from the county clerk.
With a Sunday deadline looming for petitions to be ratified and verified, organizers of the Keep Revenue in Randolph County group, seeking to make the county ‘wet’ for alcohol sales, were informed of several hundred signatures being rejected from the submitted petitions.
Group chairman Linda Bowlin described some of the rejections as understandable but the majority of those rejected seemed to be over minute or petty reasons.
Randolph County Clerk Rhonda Blevins explained her rationale to the concerned group meeting Wednesday morning at the old courthouse in downtown Pocahontas. She claimed she was trying to perform her job without allowing her personal beliefs on the matter to influence her.
“Do you want me to do a job right or do you want me to lean one way or the other?” Blevins asked, seeming to be perturbed by the question. “We are trying to follow the law.”
However, Blevins had difficulty in following the law in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. In the days that followed, Blevins told media outlets she was waiting on God to tell her what to do.
“This is totally different. My personal views is [sic] not interfering,” Blevins said. “I am doing this as legal as we know how.”
Blevins admitted to many mistakes during the rejection of signatures Wednesday morning, though. She and her office mistakenly rejected petition signatures who did not have three matching pieces of information to the voter registration. It was agreed upon Wednesday, including by Blevins, that only two (signature, birthdate, address) need to match.
Blevins also said she would not be rejecting petition signatures because the signatures do not match, and admitted her staff was not trained in recognizing handwriting. She said the process will begin once again and she will go back through the entire list of names again.
What makes each rejection so important is, once a single signature is rejected on a petition page, the entire page of signatures is also rejected, even if they were all valid. This is not the only challenge, as a whopping 38 percent of registered Randolph County voters must sign the petition just to give voters in November the opportunity to vote yes or no. This is more people than who voted in the last election for county judge, Bowlin said.
Bowlin also said Blevins should be airing on the side of caution for voters’ rights, something she said Blevins did not appear to have always done in this situation.
The evidence seems to support this belief.
NEA Report obtained copies of a voter’s registration form, belonging to Kaffie Jean Smith. Smith’s signature on the registration form is in this photo:
However, Blevins office determined the above signature did not match the signature on the petition, visible here:
While no two signatures would be exact, the two resemble one another with the latter, obviously, being signed in more of a rush while the first, on the form, was signed with more time.
An easy-to-see difference between someone quickly signing a petition and someone methodically signing their registration form, right? Not to Blevins’ office. And we may know more about how so many mistakes similar to the one above were made.
An anonymous source shared a screenshot of a Randolph County deputy clerk’s Facebook status, posted as she processed petition signatures.
The post, visible only to those who are friends with Duff including the anonymous source, indicated she was listening to music while processing petitions and, potentially, rejecting hundreds of voters based on incorrect reasoning. By itself, this might not be a big detail but some were concerned with the lax attitude considering the number of mistakes made by Blevins’ office.
Bowlin was frantically trying to gather enough signatures to make up for those lost, but with only a few days before the deadline, she expressed frustration at Blevins efforts. In response, Blevins said she had “bent over backwards” to help Bowlin and the group’s petition.
Several questioned this, including one young lady who said she was a relative of Blevins. According to her, Blevins just returned from a vacation to the beach and had been unavailable for much of the time leading up to this week’s controversy.
And ironically, the relative of Blevins also said her signature was rejected by the county clerk for the petition.
(Featured photo by Molly Hilburn | NEA Report. Photo showed clerk Rhonda Blevins (left) in an exchange with chairman Linda Bowlin)