Arkansas House rejects bill to lop day of early voting | Arkansas Democrat Gazette

A bill that would have eliminated early voting in Arkansas on the last Monday before Election Day failed on the House floor Tuesday. Senate Bill 485 by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, failed three times in a Senate committee before it was signed out and taken to the Senate floor, then took two tries to advance from a House committee. It failed in the House on a 43-39 vote, falling 12 votes short of the simply majority of 51 it needed to pass. House sponsor Rep. Justin Gonzales, R-Okolona, and supporters of the bill said it would provide more time for poll workers to get ready for Election Day without having to work long hours that Monday. Voting-rights organizations and lawmakers who opposed the bill equated it with voter suppression, and said election officials they’d spoken to didn’t see a need for a change. More than 30 people rallied in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday morning and lined the steps to the House chamber, urging lawmakers to vote down the bill. Arkansas has 13 days of early voting. If enacted, SB485 would have reduced that number to 12 and would have made the last Saturday before the election the final day of early voting.

Full Article: House rejects bill to lop day of early voting

Arkansas counties seek polling tech upgrades | Tom Sissom/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Election officials in Benton and Washington counties are considering upgrading the electronic poll books used to check in voters during elections, with a cost of about $250,000 per county. The Washington County Election Commission on Wednesday authorized Jennifer Price, election director, to prepare a request for funding from the Quorum Court. Price said the county has 166 electronic poll books that have been used since 2016. In the 2020 election, problems with the poll books included failure to maintain a charge, inability to stay connected to Wi-Fi and voter signature pages freezing. Price said the new poll books should solve those problems and will offer new features. “There are several updates that will be beneficial to the voters and election officials,” Price said. “The poll books we have were received by the county in 2016 so they’re reaching the end of their useful life.” Price said the new poll books have screens that are easier to use for both voters and poll workers, and will directly scan driver’s licenses and other state IDs. The computers can issue provisional ballots that will not be scanned by the county’s vote counting machines until approved by the Election Commission and can generate reports the older poll books can’t.

Full Article: Counties seek polling tech upgrades

Arkansas Begins 2020 Election-Audit Pilot Program | Nadia Ramlagan/KUAF

As President Donald Trump continues to insist the presidential election was marred by what he has called “massive voter fraud” that resulted in a win for President-elect Joe Biden, more states and counties are implementing election auditing procedures. Experts say audits are a crucial element of election oversight, but the general public may not be familiar with the process. Tammy Patrick, senior advisor with the group Democracy Fund, said there are different kinds of audits for different purposes, but any of them can be helpful. “If you wanted to know if the poll workers made an error, what kind of audit would you think about doing? A reconciliation audit. If you wanted to know if the machine or machines counted or worked correctly, quite often it’s a hand-count audit,” Patrick said. “And if you want to know, like, was the correct winner called, that’s where the risk-limiting audit comes into play.” Under a law that went into effect in 2019, Arkansas state officials have 60 days to begin auditing general election results in at least four counties. To complete the audit, the State Board of Election Commissioners will select the polling sites, early voting locations and vote centers to be audited.

Full Article: Arkansas Begins 2020 Election-Audit Pilot Program | KUAF

Arkansas: Absentee vote lawsuit moot, Thurston says; he calls virus fear accepted reason to skip going to polls | John Lynch/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston says a lawsuit over absentee balloting during the covid-19 pandemic is unnecessary now that he’s acknowledged that fear of infection is justification for voters to cast ballots by mail or by drop-off. Three voters in their 70s, two with health issues, sued the Republican, the state’s top election official, two weeks ago, calling on Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen to order Thurston to allow absentee voting under the standards set by a 1985 Arkansas Supreme Court holding. The three, Olly Neal Jr., a retired Arkansas Court of Appeals judge; Democrat Susan Inman, a former state elections director who unsuccessfully challenged Thurston; and Jan Baker, a lawyer who led the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas for more than 18 years, stated in court filings that they are suing because election authorities appear to be following a more restrictive standard for mail-in and drop-in voting than established by the high court 35 years ago. They stated they are afraid of catching the coronavirus if they are forced to go to the polls to vote, like Arkansas law requires.

Arkansas: Virus OK as excuse for voting absentee in Arkansas, Governor says | John Moritz/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Any Arkansans who fear going to the polls this fall during the coronavirus pandemic can use their concerns as an excuse to vote absentee, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday. The governor, who had not previously committed to expanding the use of mail-in or absentee ballots during the election, made the announcement alongside the chairmen of the state’s Republican and Democratic parties, as well as Secretary of State John Thurston. Arkansas law allows voters to request absentee ballots if they will be “unavoidably absent” on Election Day or if they have illnesses or physical disabilities. Thurston said last week in a news release that he believed the law will allow voters to choose whether to vote absentee during the pandemic, an interpretation with which Hutchinson said he concurred. “They just simply have a concern, a fear of going to the polling place because of the covid-19, that’s enough of a reason” to vote absentee, Hutchinson said.

Arkansas: In filing, state GOP chief, legislator urge dismissal of absentee-voting suit | John Lynch/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

A lawsuit over absentee voting in Arkansas during the covid-19 pandemic should be dismissed because the litigation is unnecessary, the head of the state Republican Party and a GOP state House of Representatives member argue in pleadings filed Monday. Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb and state Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, have responded to the week-old lawsuit before the only defendant, Secretary of State John Thurston, has answered the suit. The lawsuit seeks to ensure that voters who fear exposure to covid-19 do not have to vote at the polls where large crowds carry the risk of infection, but can cast absentee ballots without having to justify their reasons to authorities. Absentee votes can be cast either by mail or by dropping off a ballot before Election Day. Arkansas law requires voters to explain, under penalty of perjury, why they need to vote absentee before being allowed to do so.

Arkansas: Governor Wants To Decide On Arkansas Absentee Voting By August 1 | Steve Brawner/KUAR

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he hopes to make a decision by August 1 regarding allowing voters in Arkansas more flexibility to vote absentee this November. He made the comment at his daily press conference June 24 in response to a reporter’s question about a lawsuit filed in Pulaski County seeking no-excuse absentee voting. He said has been communicating with the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners, Secretary of State John Thurston, and county officials. “My timeframe is to make some decisions based upon their guidance and their requests sometime before August 1,” he said. “And that way there is adequate time to prepare for the election and make any adjustments that are needed.” Arkansas voters now must sign a form when voting absentee certifying that they will be “unavoidably absent” on Election Day,” that they will be unable to vote in person “because of illness or physical disability,” or that they reside in a state-licensed long-term care or residential facility. They also can vote absentee if they are a member or the spouse of a member of the military or merchant marines, or if they temporarily live outside the United States. Written in all-caps at the top of the form are the words, “If you provide false information on this form, you may be guilty of perjury and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years.”

Arkansas: Mail-in voting focus of suit filed in state | John Lynch/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The national battle over voting by mail opened a front in Little Rock on Tuesday when a retired Arkansas Court of Appeals judge and a former state elections director filed suit to force election officials to abide by a 35-year-old state Supreme Court ruling that greatly expanded the right to absentee balloting. Arkansas election authorities appear to have embraced a more restrictive standard for mail-in voting than the high court established in 1985, say Olly Neal Jr., the former judge, and Susan Inman, the former director, in their lawsuit that calls on Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen to order Secretary of State John Thurston to follow the Supreme Court holding in the November election. They are further asking the judge to bar Thurston from requiring voters to explain why they would want to vote by mail. No hearings have been scheduled.

Arkansas: Voting machines arrive, but safe storage an issue | Dale Ellis/Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Two semitrailers were filled to capacity with 148 ballot markers, 148 stands, 80 poll tablets and printers, 41 vote tabulators, and assorted equipment intended to get the county up to the latest standard in voting hardware and software. The equipment, supplied by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software, was part of a $2.7 million purchase made by the Arkansas secretary of state’s office using state and federal funds to provide new voting equipment to nine Arkansas counties that lacked adequate funding to share the cost with the state. By the March 3 primary, 64 Arkansas counties had upgraded to the new ExpressVote system, purchased through a mixture of local, state and federal funds. Pulaski and Scott counties signed contracts in February to receive new voting equipment. The nine remaining counties — Bradley, Conway, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Searcy and Stone — were notified last month that they would receive the equipment without having to come up with matching funds after the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a sharp economic downturn.

Arkansas: Governor expresses support for no-excuse absentee voting, doesn’t commit to November implementation | Andrew Epperson/KNWA

With important elections coming up in November, scientists expect another COVID-19 spike before the polls open. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Wednesday expressed support for no-excuse absentee ballots but fell short of saying he’d use emergency powers to implement them before voting season. “If there is an issue that needs to be addressed in November in which we’re still in a public health emergency, I will at that time use the powers for no-excuse absentee voting,” Hutchinson said. The legislature approved Hutchinson’s temporary emergency powers to battle the COVID-19 outbreak. By November, these powers may no longer be wielded, he said.

Arkansas: Counties to get help for election; state to apply federal funds of $4.7M for ballots, machines | Michael R. Wickline/Northwest Arkansas Newspapers

Secretary of State John Thurston said Wednesday that his office is working on a plan to help counties by using $4.7 million in federal funds to help mitigate coronavirus concerns during the Nov. 3 general election. “We are looking at helping counties with maybe larger venues, where they may spread their machines out a little more,” by possibly renting out larger places for polling sites and also purchasing sanitizing products, the East End Republican told the state Board of Election Commissioners that he chairs. “Obviously, absentee voting, we believe, will increase, and we just want to help the counties with those federal dollars and helping purchase all the things that they will need for that,” Thurston said. He said his office hasn’t “totally ironed out all the details” on spending the federal grant obtained through the U.S. Election Assistance Commission under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

Arkansas: State finds cash to buy 9 counties voting gear; cost of equipment estimated at $2.7M | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Secretary of State John Thurston’s office has decided to use state and federal funds to pay for new voting equipment in the nine Arkansas counties that don’t have updated equipment for the Nov. 3 general election. The counties, initially, were to share a portion of the costs for new equipment. “Given the impact the covid-19 pandemic has had across the state, the secretary of state’s office has had to reassess our plan in working with the remaining nine counties for new election equipment,” said Kevin Niehaus, public relations director for the Republican secretary of state. “With the counties needing to realign their fiscal priorities, it became apparent to us that fully funding the election equipment for these counties was the only viable option,” he said in a written statement. “With the integrity of our elections at stake, having all 75 counties working off the new equipment has always been a top priority.” The nine counties are Bradley, Conway, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Searcy and Stone.

Arkansas: Absentee voting rules could change for November election | Caitlin Sinett/KY3

Between election accuracy and protecting health, Boone County Clerk Crystal Graddy is pretty clear on what she would prefer to see for the November general election: as much in-person voting as possible. “I feel like it is much safer for us to do the electronic voting where someone comes in, they see their ballot, they see that it goes into the tabulator,” Graddy said. Graddy said people at the election center working the election could wipe down every station after it’s used, and people would have to stand six feet apart in line. But this past weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made clear himself: Expanded absentee voting is likely to come this fall. “We need to have that in November as well in the event hat we have this national emergency because we want to have people safely vote,” Hutchinson said.

Arkansas: Republican opposition defeats Joyce Elliott’s proposal for no-excuse absentee voting in November. | Max Brantley/Arkansas Times

Elliott said she’d circulated her idea to the governor and others and got no negative feedback. She said it was a common-sense thing to do given the possibility of a continuation of coronavirus in November. Any qualified elector could request a ballot. It would allow voters to vote safely without encountering virus dangers, she said. She noted the recent experience in Wisconsin when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay the election and voters gathered in close proximity to cast ballots. “There’s no reason for that to happen here.” She also said this change would be temporary. It would go away Dec. 31. Elliott said she’d tried to win bipartisan support. But that wasn’t possible. Instead, Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville filed a competing amendment that would allow no-excuse absentees only if the governor still had an emergency declaration in effect.  His amendment also said that those who request an absentee ballot would give up a right to vote at the poll. Sometimes people lose their absentee ballots and go to the polls. Dotson’s amendment would make that impossible. After Elliott’s proposal was defeated amid fervent Republican opposition, he withdrew consideration of his proposal.

Arkansas: Judge rejects absentee-ballot extension for runoff | Linda Satter/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

A federal judge on Monday evening denied a last-minute request to allow absentee ballots for today’s runoff elections to be counted as long as they are postmarked by today and received within 10 days. In denying a temporary restraining order requested Friday by the nonprofit Christian Ministerial Alliance, citing voting difficulties caused by the covid-19 pandemic, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. noted Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s March 20 executive order suspending some election laws. The order was issued “to aid County officials and County Board of Election Commissioners to carry out their duties in respect to the March 31, 2020 election deadlines.” It allowed eligible voters to request absentee ballots from their counties of residence and for the ballots to be sent if the applications were received within seven days of Election Day. “The effect of this Executive Order is to allow anyone to request an absentee ballot, regardless of whether they are unavoidably absent or unable to attend, and to allow them to request the absentee ballot by mail within seven days of an election,” Moody said.

Arkansas: Federal suit asks to extend state’s deadline on absentee ballots | Linda Satter/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The nonprofit Christian Ministerial Alliance, backed by a national legal group, turned to federal court Friday hoping to force state officials to extend the deadline by which absentee ballots must be submitted to be included in results of Tuesday’s runoff elections, in light of the covid-19 pandemic. On March 20, Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order suspending this week’s Tuesday deadline for absentee ballot applications to be emailed, faxed or mailed. But the requirement that election officials receive absentee ballots by 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday — election day — for the ballots to be counted has not been suspended, a federal lawsuit filed in Little Rock complains. It asserts “that provision poses a direct and severe obstacle to absentee voting.” “We don’t have the authority to alter election deadlines,” Chris Powell, spokesman for Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, said Friday in response to the lawsuit, which he said Thurston was aware of and which followed discussions about the deadline between the governor’s office and the secretary of state’s office.

Arkansas: March 31 runoff to go on despite the health scare | Dale Ellis and Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Jefferson County will not seek to delay its March 31 primary runoff. On Monday, the county’s election commissioners decided to ask the prosecuting attorney to file a suit in circuit court in an effort to postpone the election until May 19 because of coronavirus concerns. The next day, however, Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter responded that the prudent course of action would be to forge ahead with preparations for the runoff rather than try to set a precedent by seeking the delay. There is no mechanism in state law to support a delay. “I got the letter from the commission asking me to go forward,” Hunter said Tuesday. “I sent them back a response today telling them my opinion is to follow the recommendation of the [State Board of Election Commissioners], and the governor’s office, and that the legally prudent thing right now for Jefferson County is to follow that course of action and to prepare for an election on March 31.” The election commissioners Monday advised officials in 12 counties to consider several strategies — including absentee voting — to mitigate any negative effects that the coronavirus may have on their runoffs.

Arkansas: Panel weighs vote machine financial aid | Dale Ellis/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

State Rep. Doug House on Monday floated the idea of the state treasury loaning funds to counties that can’t afford their share of the cost of purchasing new voting equipment for the Nov. 3 general election. House, a Republican from North Little Rock, tossed out this proposal during a meeting of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee that also heard a pitch from Anna Claire Tilley, an 11th-grade student at Southside High School in Fort Smith, for Arkansas to implement online voter registration. Sixty-four of the state’s 75 counties had updated voting equipment for the March 3 primary election. These 64 counties included 10 that Secretary of State John Thurston’s office purchased new voting equipment for last year through Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software with the help of state funding made available under Act 808 of 2019 plus funding from most of those counties. Act 808 diverted $8.24 million in excess funds from the property tax relief trust fund to the county voting systems grant fund. The $8.4 million in state funds included about $2 million to reimburse Ashley, Benton and White counties for half of what they paid for their new equipment. (Act 808 also increased the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375 per parcel.)

Arkansas: Aging ES&S iVotronic vote machines seen as issue | Dale Ellis/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Jefferson County election officials, with the March 3 primary behind them, are looking toward what lies ahead as they continue struggling with old touchscreen voting machines that have become balky and prone to failure. Last week, on Super Tuesday, those shortcomings became apparent as technicians struggled to power the machines up and as poll workers struggled to keep them operating. According to Election Commissioner Stuart “Stu” Soffer, a number of poll judges said they won’t be back until the machines are replaced. The voting machines that Jefferson County uses are iVotronic touchscreen voting machines that were purchased from Election Systems & Software more than 15 years ago and were donated to the county from other counties that had upgraded to the new ExpressVote equipment after Jefferson County lost most of its iVotronic machines to water damage in 2018. The total cost of the 140 machines Soffer said the county needs, according to an estimate supplied by the Jefferson County Election Commission, is nearly $940,000. According to a formula worked out by the secretary of state’s office, to purchase the machines, the state would put in $618,434 from federal grant funds, leaving Jefferson County to come up with the remaining $321,367 — money that both Soffer and County Judge Gerald Robinson have said the county does not have.

Arkansas: ES&S iVotronic voting machines linked to problems, count delay in Jefferson County | Dale Ellis, Cynthia Howell, Emily Walkenhorst/Northwest Arkansas Online

Voting machine problems in Jefferson County delayed the vote count in both city and county races Tuesday night after poll workers in several locations were unable to close out the machines because of electronic failures. Technicians from the election commission had to manually close the machine at each affected location. The iVotronic touch-screen voting machines have been in service for about 15 years. Michael Adam, chairman of the Jefferson County Election Commission, announced shortly before 9 p.m. that final results would be delayed. The results were announced after 10:30 p.m. The primary got off to a rocky start during early voting when a ballot error in the Democratic Primary affecting four precincts that had the wrong state Senate race on the ballot was discovered over a week into early voting and after 152 voters had cast ballots in the wrong race. The four precincts, located in the city of Pine Bluff, were programmed with the Senate District 25 race between incumbent Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff and Efrem Elliott of White Hall, but should have been programmed with the Senate District 27 race between Keidra Burrell of Pine Bluff and former Rep. Garry Smith of Camden.

Arkansas: Soffer: State aid needed to cover vote machines | Dale Ellis/Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart “Stu” Soffer is calling on elected officials in Jefferson County to put pressure on the state to pay for new voting machines for the November general election. He said cash-strapped Jefferson County cannot come up with the more than $300,000 the Arkansas secretary of state’s office says the county will have to pay to acquire 140 of the new ExpressVote voting machines from Election Systems & Software, the state’s approved vendor of election systems. The total cost of the 140 machines, according to an estimate supplied by the Jefferson County Election Commission, is nearly $940,000. To purchase the machines, the state would put in $618,434 from federal grant funds, leaving Jefferson County to come up with the remaining $321,367, money that Soffer said the county does not have. In an email sent Tuesday morning to state Reps. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, Ken Ferguson, D-Pine Bluff, Mike Holcomb, R-Pine Bluff, Roger Lynch, R-Lonoke, and Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and to Sens. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, Soffer told the legislators that he would be asking their assistance in obtaining a third-party review of the state’s formula that determines funding.

Arkansas: Voting machines’ ability in doubt; 11 Arkansas counties using old equipment | Dale Ellis/Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

As early voting enters its second week and the March 3 primary election looms, 11 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, including Jefferson County, will be recording votes on aging equipment that is sometimes balky, cranky, and prone to glitches that can turn the process of counting ballots into an endurance contest. Sixty-four counties have acquired voting equipment that is either new this year or purchased in the past several years. Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart “Stu” Soffer said the county’s 160 iVotronics machines, manufactured by Election Systems & Software, have been in service since 2006 and are showing their age, making the closing of polling sites and counting votes more laborious with each election cycle. The county purchased 175 iVotronics machines in 2005, all of which were damaged by flooding in the Election Commission offices in early 2018. The county is now using surplus machines that were donated by Grant and Craighead counties when they upgraded to the new Election Systems & Software system. “The machines are falling apart,” Soffer said. “I put 12 machines over there (at the Jefferson County Courthouse) for early voting, and one of them dropped dead the first day.”

Arkansas: Election gear on Pulaski County’s to-do list | Kat Stromquist/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

As an election year begins, Pulaski County has yet to complete its planned purchase of new voting equipment to replace an inventory of aging machines. Some ambiguity around funding has slowed the process for the state’s largest county by population, tightening timelines in advance of November’s general election that includes the vote for the presidency. Officials learned last fall that they won’t need to provide a match to access about $1.56 million in state funding to replace dated voting equipment, but election commissioners said in December that they’re not expecting a buy until at least February. Commission chairwoman Evelyn Gomez said the board prefers to first ask the Quorum Court — likely next month, though an appearance is not scheduled — if the county can dedicate any carryover funds to the purchase. “We can’t move forward until we have a budget,” Gomez, who is a Republican appointee, said at a Dec. 20 commission meeting. “We cannot contract with money we don’t have.” Pulaski County is among 21 counties set to receive a total of $8.2 million in state funds to replace voting equipment that’s past its prime. Allocated through Act 808 of 2019, the money came from a property tax relief trust fund surplus.

Arkansas: Seven counties sign on for new voting gear | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Seven counties are scheduled to have new voting equipment in time for the March 3 elections, reducing by a third the number of counties using old equipment, under recently signed contracts. Secretary of State John Thurston’s office signed contracts in the past several weeks with Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software for Lincoln, Madison, Mississippi, Phillips, Poinsett, Saline and Van Buren counties, according to records in the secretary of state’s office. It’s possible Drew County might soon sign a similar contract with Thurston’s office, said Kurt Naumann, administrative director in the secretary of state’s office. The records show the state’s share of the cost for new equipment in the seven counties will total $1.7 million, with the countries contributing $902,938. Among the seven, Saline County will get the largest state contribution, $496,005, to match its $482,588.

Arkansas: Funds pose vote-gear hurdle for Arkansas counties | Kat Stromquist and Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Pulaski County officials are reviewing a roughly $1.56 million contribution needed to buy new voting equipment, funds they say aren’t in the budget. The payment — which would be in addition to state funds set to be distributed to 21 counties through Secretary of State John Thurston’s office — has caught officials off guard, according to Barry Hyde, county judge of Pulaski County. The state has asked the largest county by population to put up a dollar-for-dollar match, which is intended to split the purchase price of about $3.1 million in new voting equipment. That’s an issue for the county, its circuit clerk and its election commission, who say the expense isn’t feasible at this time.

Arkansas: Official doubtful on state election aid | Dale Ellis/Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

The announcement of money from the state for counties to purchase new voting equipment has left a Jefferson County election commissioner less than enthusiastic. Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stu Soffer says the county has no money to meet the matching requirement. “We do not see a light at the end of the tunnel on new voting equipment,” Soffer said. On Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that $8.24 million had been provided to the secretary of state’s office to allow counties to improve voting equipment, programming and maintenance. A day earlier, during a meeting at the Arkansas Association of Counties, Kurt Naumann, director of administration and legislative affairs in the secretary of state’s office, told several dozen county officials that the office expected to receive these funds in mid-August from the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Arkansas: Voting upgrade money granted, Hutchinson says | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

Gov. Asa Hutchison said Thursday that $8.24 million in state funds was provided to the secretary of state’s office this week to allow counties to improve voting equipment, programming and maintenance. The Republican governor’s announcement in a news release came a day after Kurt Naumann, director of administration and legislative affairs in the secretary of state’s office, told several dozen county officials that the office expected to receive these funds in mid-August from the state Department of Finance and Administration.. The transfer was allowed under Act 808 of 2019. Hutchinson said the money was transferred out of excess revenues in the property tax relief trust fund, financed by a half-cent sales tax to pay for the homestead property tax credit, to the secretary of state’s office. The money will be awarded to counties through the county voting system grant fund. Act 808 also increases the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375 per homestead and allows other excess revenues in the property tax relief fund to be shifted to the state’s Long-Term Reserve Fund.

Arkansas: Some vote upgrades unsure – 21 counties lack new machines; some say cash too short | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

Officials in the secretary of state’s office said Wednesday that they would like to install new voting equipment by the March 3 primary election in the 21 counties that don’t have it. But the office’s elections director, Leslie Bellamy, told officials from these counties that they won’t have new equipment for next year’s election cycle if Republican Secretary of State John Thurston decides to rebid the purchase, as had been suggested. In 2015, Thurston’s predecessor, Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, decided to purchase a statewide integrated voting system, including new voting equipment, through Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software rather than California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions or Texas-based Hart Inter-Civic. Officials from some counties disagreed on whether Thurston should seek new bids. Officials from other counties said their counties are so cash-strapped that they won’t be able to match state funds for new equipment.

Arkansas: House approves provisional ballot bill | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Legislation regarding the procedure for casting provisional ballots passed the House on Monday, even after concerns were raised by some lawmakers as to what the law would do. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Harlan Breaux, R-Holiday Island, struggled to answer several questions posed by his colleagues. At one point, he attempted to leave the well of the House floor while being pressed for more details. Breaux was running Senate Bill 159, which is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville. The bill would eliminate the portion of state law that requires poll workers to remove the stubs from provisional ballots and to keep those stubs in a separate box. Provisional ballots are cast when poll workers challenge a voter’s eligibility, and the voter signs an affidavit that he is legally registered to vote. Election officials later check the validity of the voter’s claim.