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The Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners has concluded a second, in-depth audit of the state’s tabulation machines.
This year’s audit covered the results of 2022’s general election across 15 randomly selected counties across the state. The audit covered 4.877% or 44,588 of the 914,277 ballots cast in 2022.
Participating counties included Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Clay, Cleburne, Crittenden, Crawford, Franklin, Newton, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Searcy, Sebastian, and Stone.
The state’s 2020 audit only covered five counties.
Out of all 15 counties, only a single discrepancy was found in Crittenden County, where 10,859 ballots were hand-counted but the machine count total came to 10,858. While auditors believe the error was human in nature, they could not conclusively prove that the county’s tabulation machines had not made a mechanical error.
“In this one case, one more paper ballot was found than was reflected on the results tape produced by the tabulator,” according to the audit. “It is the opinion of the SBEC that this is likely due to human action placing the ballot in the emergency slot after which it was inadvertently added to the counted ballots without having been counted by the device.”
If Crittenden County’s tabulation machine did make an error, its error rate would be an insignificant .002 percent. If that error rate was extrapolated to the 914,277 ballots cast in the election, the result would indicate that roughly 18 possible ballot errors were made during the course of the 2022 election.
According to the state’s audit report, investigators audited all of the county’s batches and found no other discrepancies or problems.
“However, in order to ensure there was no systematic problem in the county, the Staff audited all the Batches in that county and observed no other discrepancies or problems,” according to the audit. “For this reason, it is the conclusion of the SBEC that the more likely explanation is one of human error in handling of the ballot.”
While Crittenden County’s missing ballot was the biggest error mentioned in the state’s report, a closer look reveals that several counties had issues involving human error throughout last year’s election.
In Clay County, auditors found that provisional ballots were incorrectly stored with the county’s absentee ballots, resulting in the absentee ballots having to be excluded from the audit.
In Cleburne County, election officials again stored absentee ballots with provisional ballots. In this instance, the single provisional ballot was identifiable, allowing auditors and the county’s election officials to remove the ballot. With the ballot removed, the audit found the tabulator count to be accurate.
Crawford County also had its absentee ballots removed from the audit due to election officials counting some absentee ballots with the tabulation machine on election night before finishing the county by hand the following day.
County officials then mixed the two batches of absentee ballots together, making it impossible for state auditors to determine what had gone through a machine and what was hand counted.
In Perry County, a nine-vote discrepancy was discovered at the county’s Alpine polling site. In that instance, the county’s vote tapes showed nine more total votes than what was found during the hand count.
At the same time, staff found nine more votes by hand count at its Union Valley polling site than what was listed on the site’s tapes. It was determined that the ballots for the two sites were commingled, resulting in the discrepancy.
Lastly, in a surprising twist, Pulaski County’s audit returned with 100% accuracy. As the largest county in Arkansas, Pulaski County is unique in that many of the county’s polling sites are hand-counted on election night due to a lack of voting machines, resulting in a higher chance of human error when counting.
A total of 13,181 ballots were counted during the Pulaski County audit.
What it means
The SBEC’s second election audit marks another piece of evidence to add to the growing pile of evidence that Arkansas’s elections have been conducted fairly and properly.
Since the fallout of the 2020 elections, various Arkansas residents and groups have pushed for a return to paper ballots, claiming that the state’s election machines are prone to fraud and hacking.
Last year, Colonel Conrad Reynolds, who founded the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative during his failed race against Congressman French Hill, sued the SBEC and Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston over the state’s use of electronic machines in its elections.
Reynolds is one of the loudest proponents of paper ballots in Arkansas and has tied himself to former President Donald J. Trump, MyPillow billionaire Mike Lindell, and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.
Despite expecting to win in court, Reynolds and his lawyer saw their case thrown out by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox in September after being unable to provide evidence that a single machine had ever misrepresented a vote in Arkansas.
Reynolds had admitted to lacking evidence during a speech to the Baxter County Republican Committee earlier in March of this year.
With the case thrown out, Reynolds has cast his gaze back to individual counties across the state in an attempt to get each county Quorum Court to vote to return their respective county back to paper ballots.
Reynolds is expected to hold a speech in Mountain Home this Saturday to drum up pressure on Baxter County’s Quorum Court, which has repeatably stood its ground on the issue despite facing pressure from activists in the BCRC.
Social media graphics tied to Reynolds’s upcoming speech have falsely stated that Baxter County is considering returning to paper ballots.
Members of the county’s Quorum Court were asked by BCRC 1st Vice Chairwoman Mary Ellen Anderson to form a paper ballot committee to explore the option, but no action was taken by the court.
Justice of the Peace Dennis Frank, who has been publicly opposed to the push for paper ballots, volunteered to be on the BCRC’s committee if they were to form one on their own.
Frank would later chastise the Baxter Bulletin for writing that the Quorum Court had agreed to the committee in this month’s meeting despite the court declining to take action on the issue.
The issue of paper ballots has been described as “a dead issue” by members of the Baxter County Quorum Court. This continues to be a developing story.