Update (5/13): The Craighead County Election Commission disputed Thurston’s account.
Craighead County Election Commissioners held a public meeting on April 29, a day after it was notified of the error, said Kimberly Dale, an attorney for the Craighead County Board of Election Commissioners in a statement. The commissioners also explained the error and discussed the timing since three weeks had already passed to have the county clerk mail ballots.
“There is simply no legal authority set forth by the General Assembly that requires any reprinting of ballots,” she said.
She said Friday afternoon that the commissioners haven’t been served with Bequette’s lawsuit. “Haphazard comments unsupported by law or facts must cease and those making such statements must be held accountable,” Dale said.
Jake Bequette, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senator for Arkansas, filed a lawsuit Tuesday to correct ballots that have his first name spelled wrong.
Bequette said in the lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court that on May 9, the first day of early voting, he learned that his first name on the ballot in Craighead County was listed as "Jack." Bequette’s campaign notified the Craighead County Election Commission of the error and was told it knew about the error since April 28, according to the lawsuit.
“Even more disturbing is that nothing at all was done to correct this error prior to the commencement of early voting on May 9,” the suit said. The lawsuit also said that election officials didn’t notify Bequette’s campaign or affected voters about the misspelling.
Bequette is asking that a judge order the Arkansas Secretary of State, the state Board of Election Commissioners and the Craighead County Election Commission to correct Bequette’s name on the ballot. He also is asking that they provide uniform statewide notice to all Republican voters in Arkansas of the misidentification. On Wednesday, Phillips County Board of Elections was added as a defendant to the lawsuit after Bequette learned the ballots in that county had his first name wrong.
Votes for “Jack Bequette” will be counted as votes for Jake Bequette, Attorney Scott Poynter of Little Rock, who is representing Bequette, told Arkansas Business via email Tuesday
Secretary of State John Thurston said in a statement that he was disappointed that Craighead County didn’t correct Bequette’s name because there was enough time to do so.
After the candidate filing period, Thurston’s office sends a certified list of candidates to each county and Bequette’s name was correct on that certification, Thurston said. But an error was made by Craighead County during the preparation of the ballots, he said.
Thurston said that his office noticed on April 28 that Bequette’s first name was misspelled and told Craighead County.
“We strongly advised them to correct the ballot as there was still ample time,” he said. “We also alerted the county that Arkansas code requires a county to hold a public meeting to explain the error, give a solution to the error, or explain why the error can’t be fixed. The county failed to comply in both cases.”
An official from the Craighead County Election Commission didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
“We're gonna get to the bottom of this,” Bequette told Arkansas Business on Wednesday. “We're gonna fight this with everything we have.”
Bequette faces incumbent John Boozman, Heath Loftis and Jan Morgan in the Republican primary on May 24.
“I don't want this to happen to any candidate in any party in the state of Arkansas ever again,” Bequette said. “Election integrity is a marquee issue for me, but you never fully understand it until it happens to you.”