Flea market yields early Clinton political treasure

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) – Politicians know that a walk through a flea market is often a good place to pick up a few votes, but longtime Newton County poll worker Sue Brown found something else of value, a handful of ballots that has become part of an exhibit at the Clinton House Museum.

While at a flea market in Kingston, Brown recognized a pair of wooden boxes as old ballot boxes. Inside one were six marked ballots from Bill Clinton’s first run for public office, a 1974 congressional race. The other box contained several dozen ballot stubs.
Brown left the boxes behind, but her daughter, Jennifer Price of Fayetteville, bought them for $35 as a birthday gift for her mother.

“They were dusty, like they had been there for a while,” Brown told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “It was quite a shock to open it and see it was a Bill Clinton election.”
The women acquired the boxes two years ago. During a February visit to the Clinton museum in Fayetteville, where Bill and Hillary Clinton lived in the mid 1970s, Brown decided she wanted to loan the materials to the museum.

“We’re thrilled,” said Kelli Nixon, marketing director for the museum. Nixon said the museum would preview its new exhibit Friday.

The box, an envelope for ballots, and one ballot with an “X” by Clinton’s name are part of the display.

“This is the showcase, definitely,” Nixon said.

Nixon said the items filled a need for more items to help tell the story of Clinton’s 1974 Congressional race.

The ballots were out of Boone County and were from the June 11, 1974, primary runoff between Clinton and state Sen. Gene Rainwater of Fort Smith. Originally, there were four Democrats in the race. Clinton beat Rainwater 69 percent to 31 percent in the runoff but lost the general election to U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, R-Ark., who held the 3rd District seat for 26 years.

Brown framed one of the ballots, and it hangs in her home in Wayton, southwest of Jasper.

Dean Musteen, co-owner of the flea market, remembered selling the boxes, but he couldn’t recall where they had come from. Another co-owner, who did not want to be named, said the boxes came from an estate auction in Harrison.

State law requires that ballots be kept in a secure location for two years after an election, then they can be destroyed.
“Once that period expires, they don’t have any obligation to keep them any longer than that,” said Joe Woodson, an attorney with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office.

“Back in that time, we were very careful with the ballots,” said Fern Nicholson of Harrison, a court reporter for the 14th Judicial District from 1951 to 1986.

Clyde Trout, Boone County clerk in 1974, died in 1979. Nicholson said she didn’t know of anyone else who might know how the Boone County ballots wound up at a flea market.

The museum is on South California Boulevard, adjacent to the University of Arkansas campus. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students 12 to 18 years of age, and $1 for children. Military personnel will be admitted free on Friday, the day the new exhibit opens.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
AP-CS-05-11-09 1122EDT

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AP-CS-05-11-09 1122EDT