A ballot committee called Restore Election Integrity Arkansas is proposing an Arkansas constitutional amendment aimed at requiring all elections in Arkansas to be conducted with paper ballots and removing language in the Arkansas Constitution that permits elections to be conducted by voting machines.
Conrad Reynolds of Conway is the Restore Election Integrity Arkansas chief operating officer, according to the committee's statement of organization filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. John Bailey of Little Rock is the committee's chairman, Jan Bailey of Little Rock is the committee's chairwoman and Will Huff of Conway is its treasurer.
Reynolds, a retired U.S. Army colonel who unsuccessfully challenged Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill in 2022, said Thursday that the proposed constitutional amendment is a proposal from his Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, a 501(c) (4) nonprofit group.
"The 2020 election has no bearing on what we are doing here," Reynolds said, referring to the 2020 presidential election.
Clint Lancaster, an attorney for the Restore Election Integrity Arkansas committee, said that "we are trying to make elections more secure" in Arkansas through the proposed constitutional amendment.
Two months ago, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative challenging the legality of Arkansas' ballot-counting machines. At issue was whether the bar code-based system allows voters "to verify in a private and independent manner the votes selected by the voter on the ballot before the ballot is cast" as described in Arkansas Code 7-5-504, which sets the standards for machine operations under the state Election Code.
In dismissing the lawsuit, Fox ruled that the system does provide that verification opportunity as required by law because voters are given printed ballots to cast once they've selected their choices from the computer system. Lancaster has provided notice that the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative intends to appeal Fox's ruling to the state Supreme Court, according to court records.
Attorney General Tim Griffin's office received Restore Election Integrity Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment with a proposed popular name and ballot title "after hours" on Nov. 9, Griffin spokesman Jeff LeMaster said.
The deadline for Griffin to take action on the proposed ballot title and popular name is the close of business on Nov. 27 as a result of the holidays, LeMaster said.
The attorney general's options include certifying the popular name and ballot title as submitted, rejecting the entire submission, giving the reasons for the rejection and instructing the sponsor to redesign the measure, or substituting and certifying a more appropriate popular name or ballot title.
Certifying the proposal's popular name and ballot title would clear the way for the Restore Election Integrity Arkansas committee to begin collecting signatures of registered voters in an effort to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the 2024 general election ballot.
Sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments are required to submit 91,704 signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state's office by July 5, 2024. The total must include signatures from voters in at least 50 counties, according to the secretary of state's office.
"We are very, very well funded," Lancaster said when asked whether the Restore Election Integrity Arkansas committee would have sufficient resources to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the 2024 general election ballot.
Restore Election Integrity Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment would repeal section 4 of Arkansas Constitutional Amendment 50, which states that, "Voting machines may be used to such extent and under such rules as may be prescribed by the General Assembly."
The five-page proposed constitutional amendment also would change Section 2 of Amendment 50 so that it states "All elections by the people in this State shall be by a paper ballot containing inherent security features which makes the paper ballot difficult to duplicate or counterfeit."
Section 2 of Amendment 50 currently states that "All elections by the people shall be by ballot or by voting machines which insure the secrecy of individual votes."
Restore Election Integrity Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment states it shall not apply when its terms or language are superseded by federal law.
"Additionally, any disabled voter may also vote in county, city or state elections by voting machines in the same manner as during federal elections pursuant to the Help America Vote Act," under the proposed constitutional amendment.
In a primary, general or special election in this state, "The selecting of votes for a candidate or an issue, casting of ballots, tabulation of votes on a ballot or tabulations pertaining to the ballots shall not be conducted or completed using an internet, Bluetooth, or wireless connection," under the proposal.
Lancaster said the proposed constitutional amendment also would be aimed at eliminating the possibility of ranked-choice voting in Arkansas. If enacted, the proposal would become effective on and after Nov. 18, 2024, and would be known as the Arkansas Election Integrity Restoration and Preservation Amendment.
Asked about Restore Election Integrity Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment, state Sen. Kim Hammer, a Republican from Benton, said Thursday that "I believe that the historical record, including audits, shows that election machines that are used in Arkansas have been proven to be accurate in reflecting the vote of Arkansans.
"This includes producing a paper ballot that voters are able to see at the time they vote," he said in a written statement.
"I respect any citizen's right to introduce an initiative to be considered by voters; however, given the historical success of the machines used here in Arkansas I believe such initiatives only serve to undermine voter confidence absent of any evidence that shows cause for why we should move in the direction such as what initiative is proposing," Hammer said.
Hammer is the sponsor of Act 350 of 2020 under which counties that choose to forgo electronic voting machines in favor of paper ballots will be responsible for the cost of the paper ballots and any devices or machines required for the printing and tabulation of paper ballots.
In August, the Searcy County Quorum Court approved a resolution to shift from using voting machines to paper ballots.
In March, the Cleburne County Quorum Court reversed its earlier decision to switch to paper ballots.
Asked about Restore Election Integrity Arkansas' proposed constitutional amendment, Faulkner County Clerk Margaret Darter, a Republican, said Thursday that "I think the people of Faulkner County like the secure voting we have in place now.
"Paper ballots would cost taxpayers an estimated cost of $8.00 per ballot as opposed to 12 cents," she said in a written statement. "We would have to go back to voting in your designated precinct location which means no more vote centers. We would have to reduce our early voting locations down to one location. We would need more than 300-plus poll workers; and there would be no more reporting on Election night."
The Restore Election Integrity Arkansas committee also has submitted to the attorney general's office a proposed constitutional amendment with a proposed popular name and a proposal ballot title that pertain to absentee voting.
LeMaster said the attorney general's office also received this proposal "after hours" on Nov. 9, so the deadline for a response to the proposal from the attorney general is Nov. 27.
Under the proposed amendment, "Only those voters who are unable to be present at the polls on election day because they are physically absent from or hospitalized, incarcerated or a resident of a long-time care facility within the county in which they are registered to vote shall qualify for, possess and utilize an absentee ballot."
The seven-page proposal states that it shall not apply when its terms and language are superseded by federal law.
According to the secretary of state's website, Arkansas registered voters currently must meet one of the following criteria to be qualified to cast an absentee ballot:
They will be unavoidably absent from their polling site on election day.
They will be unable to attend their polling site on election day due to illness or physical disability.
They are a member of the Uniformed Services, merchant marines or the spouse or a dependent family member and are away from their polling location due to the member's active duty status.
They are a U.S. citizen whose residence is in Arkansas but is temporarily living outside the territorial limits of the United States.
If enacted, this proposed constitutional amendment would be effective on and after Nov. 18, 2024, and would be known as the Arkansas Absentee Ballot and Absentee Voting Election Integrity and Security Amendment.
Information for this article was contributed by Neal Earley and John Lynch of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.