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All but two of the 75 counties in Arkansas use voting machines that create paper copies of each ballot cast.

Clerks in Union and Ouachita counties said they've never had a problem with their voting equipment.

Election security experts have raised concerns about voting devices that don't produce receipts for individual voters because the lack of those receipts makes it hard to ensure no votes were manipulated.

Ouachita County Clerk Britt Williford acknowledged those concerns are the biggest drawback to his county's current voting machines, which the county plans to replace before the general election in November.

"We haven't had any problems," Williford said. "The only problem would be is that there's no box they can go and pull all the ballots out of in the case of a recount."

Essentially, voters would have to take his word for it, Williford said.

Union County hasn't been able to afford new voting equipment, according to County Clerk Shannon Phillips, but an Arkansas secretary of state's office spokesman said the state office has been discussing upgrading Union County's voting devices by using a combination of state and federal dollars.

Union and Ouachita counties are among the more than 300 counties in nine states that have so-called paperless machines. Five states use strictly electronic voting devices that don't provide voters with paper receipts.

The voting machines in the two south Arkansas counties create paper records of total vote tallies at the end of each early voting and election day that can be checked against the total number of residents who voted.

In other counties in the state, voters can review a paper copy of their ballots before they're formally submitted.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month suggested phasing out machines that don't produce paper records of individual votes. That committee and other federal authorities have said that Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states in the 2016 general election.

Authorities didn't find evidence of any vote count manipulation. However, they warned that foreign groups -- notably from Russia, Iran and North Korea -- will likely continue trying to interfere.

Arkansas has slowly upgraded voting equipment over the past decade. The secretary of state's office funded $2.5 million in voting equipment upgrades for five counties in 2015. Chris Powell, a spokesman for the office, said the money came from savings within the secretary of state's budget.

Details aren't finalized, but Powell said that several additional counties stand to receive machines later this year. A combination of state and federal funding will be used to purchase the equipment, and the cost isn't yet known.

Under state law, all new voting devices must produce a "voter verified paper audit trail."

The secretary of state's office isn't so much concerned with the paperless voting machines as it is about aging equipment.

"The equipment in those counties, as well as most other counties, is aging and at the end of their expected life cycle," Powell said. "We believe the state would be better served by upgrading to a more reliable, more user-friendly, more modern, and more technologically secure system.

"The systems we are procuring through a combination of budget savings, federal dollars, and county appropriations, are a great step forward in all of those respects."

A Section on 05/22/2018

Print Headline: Lack of paper trail an election concern

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  • RBBrittain
    May 23, 2018 at 1:43 a.m.

    These counties should have been top priority for replacement. They, along with neighboring Columbia County (which has already replaced them), purchased these machines just before Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money became available after the 2000 election debacle, thus they were excluded from the HAVA-funded wave of paper ballots and paper-trail touchscreens used in the rest of Arkansas. Former SOS Charlie Daniels -- a Democrat -- wisely insisted on the paper trail and made sure it became law. Current SOS Mark Martin and the next SOS -- whether Susan Inman, John Thurston, or the Libertarian candidate -- should heed his vision; it's the very least we MUST do to protect vote integrity.

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