Prosecutor says Soffer’s term as election commissioner expired, new election needed

Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said Thursday that Stu Soffer’s term as chairman of the Jefferson County Election Commission has expired, and the commission needs to meet and elect a chair.

In a letter to Election Coordinator Will Fox, Hunter said commissioners are elected (by their respective political parties) for two-year terms in January of odd-numbered years, and while state law requires the board to meet 30 days before the next general election to elect a chairman, and while a chairman’s term is two years, that term can be cut short by the expiration of his or her term on the commission.

Although Hunter’s letter said Soffer was elected chairman of the commission in December 2012, both Soffer and former chairman Trey Ashcraft said he was actually elected chairman in January 2013. According to Ashcraft, the terms of the commissioners start when they ae sworn in, rather than on a calendar date as do those of other elected officials.

“I was technically still on the commission until Ted (Davis) was sworn in,” Ashcraft said.

At the time of Soffer’s election as chairman, the commission consisted of Ashcraft and Shara Williams, both Democrats, and Soffer, a Republican.

Ashcraft said the day after Soffer was elected as chairman, the county Republican Party met and re-elected Soffer to another two-year term as the party’s representative on the commission, and the Democratic Party met the following week when they elected Davis as chairman of the county party. Davis was also selected, along with Williams, to represent the Democratic Party on the commission.

“Why would the Election Commission elect someone (Soffer) chairman for two years when there was a possibility that he would not be re-elected by the Republican Party?” Ashcraft said.”We could have had three brand-new commissioners.”

When all three commissioners were sworn in Feb. 6, Soffer turned down a request from Davis to hold an organizational meeting to elect officers, basing his decision to remain as chairman of the commission on a 2011 Attorney General’s opinion.

Davis contended and Ashcraft agreed at that time that Soffer’s term as chairman ended when Ashcraft resigned from the commission and created a need to select a new commissioner.

Soffer said in an email Thursday that he is asking Hunter to review the Attorney General’s opinion with regard to the validity of his term in office.

“He found an obscure footnote pertaining to when there were three-year terms and opined all of our terms expired in January when the new commissioners were elected, or in the case of two of us re-elected,” Soffer said.

Soffer said that while he, and attorneys at the state level, said the footnote could be interpreted either way, “I am committed to following the law and in this case, the advice of the election commission legal adviser. To be fair to … Hunter, our State Election Commission staff attorney said he ‘could not disagree with … Hunter’s interpretation and it could go 50-50.”

In the statement, Soffer also made an apparent reference to Davis, although not by name, saying “For the life of me I cannot understand why a new commissioner with no Arkansas election commission experience wants to come on board and immediately take charge. It’s much more than a fancy title for a resume. While the only difference between the chair and other two commissioners is chairing meetings and getting to announce the unofficial election results, it helps to know every step of the process, understand the equipment and its capabilities, knowing the staff not only in our office but the 40 polling places, and having institutional knowledge about pitfalls.”

Soffer said the only reason he wants to remain as chairman of the commission was to “continue the progress made under Trey’s leadership.”

He also said if the commission does not want him to remain as chairman, he would nominate Williams for the position.

“She is an intelligent woman with two years of hands-on experience and well respected in the community,” Soffer said. “She would be an acceptable compromise to me and I am very confident the voters and candidates of Jefferson County as well.”

He also said he planned to ask for an expedited Attorney General’s opinion on Hunter’s interpretation of the opinion.

“I owe to the many voters of both political parties, both black and white, friends and total strangers who encourage me to stand my ground on this issue,” he said.

In a second email, Soffer asked Fox to notify Davis and Williams that he would be out of town and unavailable until the last week of February, and proposed a meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 28 to begin preparing for school millage elections on May 14, or sooner if the Jefferson County Clerk receives the paperwork for the election.

“Since there is no other election business to conduct between now and then, it would be more cost=effective not to meet for five minutes (to reorganize) with a single agenda item, then meet again to conduct business,” Soffer said in the email. “The Quorum Court has expressed budget concerns and we are obligated to cut costs whenever possible.”