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Those hoping that a hand recount of the May 9 election would help make their case that Baxter County should return to paper ballots have a major uphill battle ahead of them.
After a full eight hour day of poll workers pouring over the county’s ballots, the final count for the evening on the millage election was still off by three percent.
When poll workers were asked by Baxter County Clerk Canda Reese if the error was machine driven or simple human error, the group resoundingly agreed that they were at fault. When asked for a show of hands of those who would like to see the county return to paper ballots, only two of the 21 counters in the room raised their hand.
Both of those individuals were members of the Ozark Patriots. Another member of the Ozark Patriots abstained from voting.
The other 18 volunteers in the room raised their hands in favor of keeping the county’s election machines.
“This is not an easy task,” said Reese. “This is one millage issue and one race per ballot. Now, when we’re looking at a primary or a general election, we’re looking at 15 to 18 races plus three to five ballot issues. It’s taken us a full eight hours to get to this point. And for the smaller districts, we’re within one or two of being accurate on every one of them. For Mountain Home School District, we’re not there. We’re 46 votes off on the vote total for the millage. That’s three percent of the ballots that we’ve made errors in counting.”
The hand recount for the May 9 election started at 9 a.m. yesterday morning, with roughly 23 or so volunteers joining in the count. A group of 10 or so people were in attendance to just observe. Almost all of those individuals left within an hour or two, with the seats remaining empty for the rest of the day. Many of Baxter County’s most vocal supporters of paper ballots and hand counted elections did not make an appearance at Tuesday’s recount.
Some volunteers left throughout the day to attend to personal matters.
Only the Observer was present to represent the press. Also in attendance was Chris Madison, who serves as legal counsel for the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners (SBEC), and Charles Morris, the SBEC’s election administration supervisor.
Various members of the Baxter County Quorum Court including Dennis Frank, Cameron Davis and Maryanne Edge assisted in counting ballots as well.
“The gentleman from Little Rock, Chris, the lawyer, he knew what he was talking about,” said Baxter County Election Commissioner Bob Bodenhamer. “He said that hand recounts they have done average in between five and eight percent difference than the machines.”
Early morning counting went relatively smoothly, with each group of five or so counters coming up with their own method to work through the ballots that they were given. The groups were spread out amongst four tables. There was no standardized method given to counters during the recount process.
The Election Commission had counters go through election day ballots by district in the morning, before moving on to early voting ballots in the afternoon. Election day ballots saw little hiccups with each table only having to recount each batch of ballots a few times to get a match with electronic records.
Things became more difficult in the afternoon, when the group began to tackle the county’s 5,300 early voting ballots that had been cast in the election, leading to the final millage count being off by three percent.
When asked if they were satisfied with the recount or if they would like to continue, the majority of the group said they were fine with the results.
“If we were not using a machine, and we were just doing a hand count of ballots, what this shows me is that number one, we would have something to balance to. Number two, we can count 15 different times the same race and come up with 15 different answers,” said Reese.
In Arkansas, skepticism surrounding election integrity began in 2016 after former President Donald Trump defeated Democrat Candidate Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin. The results sparked theories among Arkansas Democrats that elections had been rigged.
In 2020, even more skepticism arose after Trump was defeated by President Biden. In an attempt to address concerns surrounding Arkansas’s elections, the SBEC conducted a random audit of paper ballots that were counted by the states ExpressVote Universal Voting Systems throughout White, Pope, Lincoln, Faulkner and Madison counties.
It should be noted that Arkansas does in fact use paper ballots in its electronic voting process. Each ballot clearly shows the results that each voter picked on the voting machines. The only difference between Arkansas’s paper ballots and the handwritten paper ballots that some voters would like to return to, is that a machine is used to add the data to the ballot instead of a pen.
Even if the Baxter County Election Commission was to lose a thumb drive or tabulation tape, or if someone believed that a machine may have been tampered with, they could still effectively hand count each ballot and the results that were placed on it. The ability to count those machine-made paper ballots was on full display for the public on Tuesday.
In their audit, the SBEC determined that “the voting equipment used and audited in each of the five selected counties rendered a faithful and accurate count of the ballots which were submitted to the system for counting. Based on these findings, it is the conclusion of the SBEC that the ExpressVote system accurately tabulated the election results for the 2020 General Election in the State of Arkansas.”
The audit came back with 100% accuracy. Only one discrepancy was ever noted during the audit, with one ballot accidentally being placed in the emergency slot on the tabulation machine. That accident resulted in Trump having one additional vote over the machine tabulated results for the St. Paul polling location. After checking the total number of voters who cast their ballot that day, the SBEC’s attorney was able to verify with the County Clerk that a voter had made the human error of placing the ballot in the emergency slot instead of running it through the tabulator.
The results of the audit, and information on how it was conducted can be found via PDF below.
The Baxter County Election Commission will certify May 9’s election results within the next two days. The numbers announced to the public by the election commission on election night are confirmed to be accurate.