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Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on Wednesday rejected two proposed constitutional amendments to remove voting machines from Arkansas’ election process.
One proposal would require hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots, while the other would create absentee ballot procedures.
Griffin cited several reasons for rejecting the proposed popular name and ballot title of both initiatives, including a lengthy popular name, “partisan coloring language” and ambiguities.
Conrad Reynolds, chief operating officer of Restore Election Integrity Arkansas, the ballot question committee behind the proposed amendments, said the decision was expected and the proposals will be revised.
“We anticipated that and so we’re fully prepared to move forward,” Reynolds said.
If Griffin approves the updated submissions, the group must then collect 90,704 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the 2024 ballot.
- All elections be conducted by paper ballots that are hand-marked with ink and hand-counted after polls close on election day
- Winners be determined by which candidate or issue receives the majority plus one vote
- Preserving the special runoff system
- Allocating funding to ensure free, fair and secure elections
The Arkansas Absentee Ballot and Absentee Voting Election Integrity and Security Amendment proposes absentee ballots be:
- Distributed 30 days prior to election day only to registered voters unable to be present on election day because they are physically absent, hospitalized, incarcerated or in a long-term care facility
- Distributed by the county clerk only to a requesting and qualified voter
- Counted on election day before early and election day votes
- Not counted if they don’t strictly conform to this amendment
Additionally, the amendment would prohibit “absentee ballot harvesting” and “the unauthorized possession” of the ballot by someone other than the requesting voter, the U.S. Postal Service or an appointed or authorized election official; prevent the tracking of absentee ballots once they’re sent to a voter; and protect information about who requested an absentee ballot.
Both proposed amendments would prohibit elections from being conducted via an internet, Bluetooth or wireless connection.
The push for hand-counted paper ballots across the U.S. stem from conspiracies fueled by Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Questioning the security of vote tabulators has prompted at least six states to introduce legislation to ban their use. More than 90% of U.S. election jurisdictions currently use electronic tabulators.
Studies have shown that ballot scanners are more accurate than hand counts, including a 2018 study co-authored by the director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab and a separate study from the early 2000s
Reynolds is the founder of Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, a group with connections to Trump that wants to eliminate voting machines and instead rely on paper ballots marked and counted by hand.
Reynolds said many people don’t trust machines and feel like they can’t verify their vote is counted correctly.
“A lot of it has to do with voters don’t trust our system,” he said. “They don’t trust that their vote is even being counted. We think that this would restore a lot of that trust.”
In December 2022, AVII sued Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, the state Board of Election Commissioners and voting machine manufacturer Election Systems and Software LLC. The suit asked a judge to block the state from using ES&S’s voting machines in future elections.
During the 2023 legislative session, Sen. Ken Hammer, R-Benton, and Rep. Wayne Long, R-Bradford, sponsored Act 350 and Act 743 which make counties responsible for the cost of hand-counted paper ballots.
The legislation also requires that paper ballots be compatible with the state’s electronic tabulation devices and run through the device prior to a hand count. If the hand count is not completed at least 24 hours before the certification deadline, the machine tabulated results become the certified results.
Reynolds said his group’s absentee ballot proposal aims to “close loopholes” in the process. While he’s unsure if there are issues with absentee ballots because there are fewer of them, Reynolds said there could be problems in the future.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that it’s a secure election and fair, and so that everybody gets an opportunity,” he said. “But what we don’t want is people being able to ballot harvest or misuse the system to put additional votes in the system.”
Reynolds said both proposals aim to create more secure elections, which could improve voter confidence and participation. Arkansas ranked last in both voter turnout and registration for the 2020 election, according to a federal report.
“I want to see more people vote; I don’t care if you’re Democrat, Green Party, Republican,” he said. “I want to see more people participate in our system and I want to see the right person, the person who actually got elected, get elected, and I want to be able to verify it.”
Chris Madison, interim director and legal counsel for the State Board of Election Commissioners, said Arkansas already uses paper ballots.
“It’s important to understand that Arkansas is a paper ballot state, what we use though is equipment to help us have cleaner, more easily counted paper ballots,” Madison said.
At the polls, Arkansas voters insert a paper ballot into a marking device that Madison calls “a fancy pencil.” The touch-screen machine, which isn’t connected to the internet, prints the marked ballot legibly on a paper ballot that voters can review before inserting it into a tabulator, he said.
Marked ballots are printed with both the text of voters’ selections and barcodes that Madison said correlate to their selected candidates. Reynolds said people can’t read the barcode or verify that the machine interprets voters’ results correctly.
In the event of equipment failure or a question about tabulator results, Madison said officials can reference the paper ballots.
The benefits of using the voting machines, Madison said, is they use less ink and paper than a hand-marked paper ballot and provide warnings if voters don’t make a selection in a race. They also allow voters to review and change selections without requiring printing a new ballot.
Additionally, the machines are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and allow a person with vision or hearing impairments to vote without assistance if they choose, he said.
“[The tabulator] provides a convenient, quick and accurate way of getting results on election night because we all want election night unofficial results,” Madison said.
Officials have 10 days to certify election results, and Madison said hand-counted results would likely take until the deadline.
The tabulators are also incredibly accurate, he said. The State Board of Election Commissioners audited the 2022 general election by examining nearly 44,600 ballots in 15 counties. The audit identified a single instance where the hand counted paper ballots did not agree with the tabulator count.
This was likely due to human error of placing the ballot in the emergency slot, according to the report. However, if it was a machine error, it represents an error rate of .002%.
Madison said county election officials also can conduct their own audits if they choose.
Arkansas has “a very robust, good system that allows voters easy access, easy check in and works really well,” Madison said, but should voters approve Reynolds’ proposed amendments in 2024, the State Board of Election Commissioners will adjust accordingly.
“We’re not in the position of making policy statements, we’re just here to make things happen,” he said.
Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. This article was published with permission from the Arkansas Advocate. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.