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Paper ballots a bad idea for Garland County

OPINION by Gene Haley, guest column | February 26, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

There have been numerous discussions about reverting to paper ballots instead of using electronic voting machines in the Legislature. In order to fully understand the voting process in Garland County, you first must understand how the process has evolved into the current voting system.

Garland County has a great number of political subdivisions, including state Senate (2), state Representative (5), justice of the peace districts (13), school districts (11), constables (4), and then multiple city, fire and water districts.

In last year's primary election, we had 67 different ballot styles. If we had used paper ballots, we would not be able to use the vote centers, where you can vote at any open location. If each location had 67 stacks of ballots to choose from, the chance of receiving the wrong ballot by mistake is possible. We would have to return to assigning voters to specific voting locations, with only ballots for those precincts available.

We have done that before, with terrible results. In that same primary election, we had over 1,600 address changes, and those voters were able to get their correct ballot, at any vote center. Using paper ballots, we would have had to direct most of those voters with address changes to go to a different voting location in order to get the correct ballot. How many voters would not make the effort to go to another location?

Counting paper ballots by hand is problematic. There may be 20 or more races on a ballot, and poll workers must tally each race. In order to check and double-check the tally, results would not be available for hours, or possibly days. The desire for instant results would suffer from hand counting.

Our current voting system allows the voter to mark their correct ballot using an electronic ballot marking device, print and review a paper printer ballot, and then cast their ballot into a ballot tabulator.

Arkansas law requires conducting logic and accuracy testing on every piece of equipment prior to being used in an election. We must vote test ballots on each machine, and achieve predetermined results, in order to use those machines for an election.

Logic and accuracy testing is open to the public, and notices of dates and times for testing are published in the newspaper. In my 24 years of working elections, no member of the voting public has ever attended the testing process. If you want to know and trust the process, you should observe the testing.

Poll workers certify the counts at each location each day, and that certification, the printed results from the tabulator, and the actual voted ballots are retained in Garland County. No matter what is transmitted and published to the public, the results of all elections remain secured locally.

Remember the long lines to vote in 2012 and 2014? We do not want to go back to that process. What happens in other states does affect Garland County. The Garland County Election Commission will demonstrate the processes we currently use to any registered voter upon request.

Gene Haley is the Garland County Election Commission chairman/election coordinator.

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