Republican John Thurston was leading Democratic challenger Anna Beth Gorman on Tuesday evening in his bid to secure another term as Arkansas' secretary of state.
With 57% of the vote counted, unofficial returns were:
The secretary of state is Arkansas' top election official and has a wide range of responsibilities when it comes to elections, including maintaining records and making sure the state is in compliance with federal law.
The office is also responsible for the maintenance and security of the Capitol and its grounds along with being the go-to government office for many business-related services.
For new businesses, the office is often the first point of contact, as it maintains documents for many companies and nonprofits.
Thurston, of East End, was first elected in 2018 after serving as state land commissioner for eight years.
He was not available for comment Tuesday night after multiple attempts to call him for an interview.
Gorman, of North Little Rock, said she was proud of the campaign she had run.
"My goal is to move the needle from 2018 to 2022," she said.
Gorman, who is the CEO of the Woman's Foundation of Arkansas, said her campaign focused attention on what the secretary of state does in Arkansas.
"I also held the current officeholder accountable, regardless of how it turns out," she said.
Arkansas ranked last in the nation in voter participation and turnout for the 2020 election, according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Gorman has placed the blame on Thurston for not using his office to encourage more people in the state to register to vote.
Thurston has pointed to the 2020 election as proof that the public is becoming more engaged because the state had a record turnout, mirroring a national trend. Gorman said if elected she would become a more proactive secretary of state who would try to increase voter registration and turnout.
She said she also would push for online voter registration in Arkansas, something that would require action from the General Assembly.
Thurston said he supports online registration "if done right," citing an Alabama law as a good model for Arkansas to follow.
He said there has been a record in registration from businesses and nonprofits, with around 50,000 doing so during his first term. To help accommodate the growing demand for services, Thurston established a satellite office in Fayetteville.
Gorman said business services at the secretary of state's office need to be revamped. She said the office is understaffed, and the website "is a mess." She said the lack of adequate staff has caused customer service to be poor.
She said the office should be more integrated with other state agencies such as the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the attorney general's office.
During his first term, Thurston added a cybersecurity specialist to the secretary of state's office after issues of foreign hacking of election offices occurred around the country during the 2016 election.
When it comes to securing the Capitol grounds, he pointed to protests that turned violent in Little Rock in 2020 and a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He said police have new equipment such as tear gas and training to handle future threats.
He said the Arkansas State Capitol Police Department has an intelligence officer to monitor social media to help with surveillance. On election night, he said there are cybersecurity specialists from the federal government on site to help monitor the election.
Gorman was a member of the governor's Task Force on Cyber Security and Computer Science and supported Thurston's call to hire a cybersecurity specialist.
On the security of the grounds, she said she would defer to the chief of the Capitol police on what is needed.