A discussion about paper ballots ended up getting filed away at Tuesday night’s White County Quorum Court meeting because it wasn’t on the agenda, but a packed house showed up expecting the issue to be addressed.
Conrad Reynolds, who tried to unseat Second District Congressional Rep. French Hill in last May’s Republican primary and is the chief executive and founder of Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative Inc., attended the meeting and visited with the justices of the peace before it started.
However, even though new White County Judge Lisa Brown looked around the room and said it was the biggest crowd she has seen at a Quorum Court meeting, discussing paper ballots was not allowed because it had not been submitted by a justice to be placed on the agenda. The group needed to be sponsored by a JP in order to be allowed to speak or a JP needed to make a motion for rules to be suspended for a vote to be taken to add an item to the agenda, Brown told The Daily Citizen.
Justice Doug Kennedy referenced the large turnout and asked Brown how paper ballots would affect the county monetarily versus using its voting machines for elections. However, Brown said the discussion was not relevant to an appropriation ordinance that was being discussed. “That’s something we will deal with at a later date,” Brown said. “Good question. That is something we will deal with at a later date.”
The Daily Citizen talked to Reynolds after the meeting and asked him about a resolution recently passed by the Cleburne County Quorum Court to switch to paper ballots “for the reduction of voter fraud and increase in election integrity.”
Reynolds said none of the justices in Cleburne County disagreed with going to paper ballots. “The four that voted against it just weren’t convinced that they had enough already set in place to be able to transition at an appropriate place. A couple of them wanted to do a study but the rest of them said, ‘We’re ready to go now.’”
Asked what made the Cleburne County Quorum Court look into using paper ballots, Reynolds said, “I talked to them.” When asked if he plans to work on getting all 75 counties in the state to change to paper ballots, he said, “You better believe it.”
Republicans have been pushing for hand-counted paper ballots since President Donald Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 election he lost to Joe Biden. Trump, who has announced that he will run for president again in 2024, has called for “only paper ballots” being used in America’s elections.
Reynolds said the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, a 501(c)(4) organization, was formed in August “and the goal is to inform people, because I was like everybody else, I believed everything was done properly, no problems here, until I started doing a deep dive. I really started looking into how our voting process works and how it doesn’t work ... . I said, ‘We have a problem. We really have a problem.’”
Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-301, though, allows quorum courts to go to a paper ballot if they want, he said. “We don’t have to have machines, only for the handicapped. That’s under the federal law, the HAVA [Help America Vote] Act of 2002. So I said why don’t we look at that as an option, so I started talking to county clerks, started talking to different people.
“And once they’ve heard what I said, they all agreed, ‘You’re right, we need to do something for transparency. We need to do something for accountability because we don’t have that right now.’ And I said the only way we can do it is paper ballots, and there’s a reluctance because it’s not convenient.”
Reynolds said a paper ballot today is “not the ballot of 30 years ago where you can go down here to Staples and make copies and stuff the ballot box. You can’t do that at all.”
As for as counting votes from paper ballots, Reynolds said, “It’s got to be hand-marked and hand-counted. It has to be. Each county would have to determine how they would do it. I’m not going to get in the weeds and tell every county how they’re supposed to do it. All I need to do is say, ‘Here’s what we have. Here is why we can’t trust it. You have to make the decision whether you want to continue voting with a system that is non-transparent.’ It counts barcodes for goodness sakes. Do you read barcodes? I don’t either. How do you know your vote was counted? You don’t. It counts barcodes, it doesn’t count the text on that ballot, so why would we trust that?”
Reynolds said he looked into the company “running our elections,” Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software “I researched it heavily. No one knows who actually owns it. The McCarthy Group, they’re a private equity fund. We don’t know what that barcode says. We know it brings up the ballot stub but we don’t know what else it tells the machine. ... So how do you trust it? It doesn’t make any sense.
“The point is that they don’t do an audit on 100 percent of every county. They do a limited risk audit or things like that. It’s ridiculous. I can’t trust it. State law says you have to be able to verify the person you’re voting for before you cast your vote. State law and federal law says that. The machines don’t do that.”
Reynolds said he’s filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, state Board of Election Commissioners and ES&S “because their machines do not meet the letter of the law. We filed it. It’s been served and we’re going forth with that.”
Reynolds also showed a paper ballot that was designed for Arizona. “They were going to use this in November, but it didn’t get through their state Legislature in time. This is just a regular ballot but it has security features in it. ... You can’t make copies of this. It has a hologram. It has got 12 different security features on this ballot. You can’t counterfeit it, and this is what we need to have in every county in my mind. We need to count that under a camera and live stream it so everybody can see the count, no hanky panky going on.”
Numerous studies — in voting and other fields such as banking and retail – have shown that people make far more errors counting than do machines, especially when reaching larger and larger numbers. They’re also vastly slower.
“Machine counting is generally twice as accurate as hand-counting and a much simpler and faster process,” said Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University who has conducted research on hand-counts.
In one study in New Hampshire, he found poll workers who counted ballots by hand were off by 8 percent. The error rate for machine counting runs about 0.5 percent, Ansolabehere said.
“Election deniers are using the language of election integrity to dismantle the actual infrastructure of election integrity,” said David Becker, the co-author of “The Big Truth,” a book about the risks of Trump’s voting claims, and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. “If you want inaccurate results that take a really long time and cost a lot, then hand counting is your solution.”
Asked if he would be on the February agenda for the White County Quorum Court pushing paper ballots, Reynolds said, “Oh, we hope so. I hope they do and I would like to do it.”
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