With only 36 registered voters casting ballots last week on Election Day in the US, every vote mattered in Waldenburg, Arkansas, population 80.
So when resident and bar owner Randy Wooten ran for mayor of the town, he was shocked when he received not a single vote in the final count – not even his own.
His wife, Roxanne, said she voted for him too, so he should have had at least two votes, they say.
Yet when the votes cast on the touchscreen electronic voting machine were tabulated after the polls closed, two other candidates had received 18 votes each, and Wooten not a one.
For the past week, Wooten, 51, has been asking local election officials what could have happened, and he has attended several meetings, including an official recount of the votes. But so far, he said, no one has been able to explain the situation, which on a smaller scale reflects a similar situation in Sarasota County, Florida. There, some 18,000 voters were not recorded as casting ballots in a Congressional race.
Wooten's wife has her own idea of what went wrong.
"The machine was really touchy," she said. "When you touched one [candidate's name], it would jump to the next [candidate]. If you didn't touch it just right, exactly where you were supposed to, it would jump. In other words, whoever voted for him just wasn't careful enough. It makes you wonder about all of them."
Roxanne Wooten said that when she was able to see a review screen of her votes, she was able to catch one error and correct it. But that still doesn't explain what happened to her vote for her husband, she said.
Election officials in Poinsett County, Arkansas, said the matter is still being reviewed.
JC Lassiter, a county election commissioner, said yesterday that an expert from the maker of the touchscreen machine, ES&S (Election Systems & Software), is coming to the town to investigate and look over the machine and the results.
A recount Monday night with the paper records printed for each voter confirmed 18 votes for incumbent Mayor William Wood, 18 votes for challenger Ronnie Chatman and no votes for Wooten. "We went over that last night," Lassiter said. "We're covering all the possibilities. We're doing everything in our power."
Lassiter said that officials only have the word of the Wootens about how they voted, but he agreed that "the touchscreen is very sensitive. [The vote totals] surprised us as much as anybody else. We immediately called for a recount."
It was only the second time that the town had used the ES&S iVotronic Touch Screen Voting System, which replaced paper ballots in Waldenburg in the spring primary election earlier this year, Lassiter said. He had no comment on what might happen now with the election results.
"We use the machines, but it takes time to get the kinks out of them," he said.
Jill Friedman, a spokeswoman for Omaha-based ES&S, said yesterday that "there was no problem with the equipment, period" based on an analysis of the paper voting logs in the machine. In a recount, officials can see the paper records and see where a voter selected a candidate or deselected a candidate as they voted, she said.
In the Waldenburg mayor's race, one of the printed logs shows a person selecting Wooten, then deselecting him and voting for another candidate, Friedman said. "We have looked at the unit and looked at facts, and based on the data, this is what occurred. I cannot talk about hypotheticals.
"The process is still ongoing," she said. "It's a very detailed process."
Every voter using the iVotronic machines gets a chance to look at a review screen to confirm their choices and then sees a 'confirm choices' screen before their votes are actually cast, Friedman said.
Wood said he believes in the tallies; he discounted Wooten's concerns. "According to the machine, Mr. Wooten did not vote for himself," Wood said. "And Mrs Wooten did not vote for him. He claims there were six or eight more people in town who promised him that they would vote for him, but they were not there [on the machine tallies]."
"He made up the story," Wood said, arguing that "if Wooten had voted for himself, it would have thrown the election to me [by taking a vote from challenger Chatman]. When you live in a little town, there's probably 40 voters in total. You pretty well look at your voter registration lists. I knew before the polls opened how many votes I was going to get."
For Wooten, the whole situation has become an embarrassment. "I think I'm going to let it go," he said. "Everybody here is making me feel like a fool."
Wooten said he ran for mayor – his second attempt – to "try to do things for the town". As the owner of Randy's Karaoke Bar on Highway 14 – formerly the Honey I'm Home Cafe until three years ago – Wooten said he wanted to try to entice new residents to the small town, where he has lived for about 11 years.
On the night of the election, up to a dozen people telephoned him and told him they had voted for him, he said, but they won't come forward to protest against the results. "After a while, it just gets tiresome," Wooten said.