Searcy County approves resolution to switch to paper ballots for elections

Quorum Court must pass ordinance to finalize move

Absentee ballots come out of a printer on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 at the Benton County Clerk's Office. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

The Searcy County Quorum Court approved a resolution Monday calling for the north Arkansas county to move from using voting machines to paper ballots.

The decision, which was approved 6-2, comes during a time when some local county-level officials from around the state have questioned the security of the state's voting machines.

However, the Quorum Court will have to approve an ordinance to finalize the move to paper ballots, which it could do at its next meeting in September. Under Arkansas law, counties have the option to choose to use paper ballots instead of electronic voting machines.

The decision to move to paper ballots came after a recommendation from a bipartisan county committee, according to Wayne Witcher, a member of the Searcy County Quorum Court. Witcher said he voted for the resolution at the urging of constituents and assurances from the committee that the switch to paper ballots would not be too costly.

"Had it been overly burdensome, then I would have voted no," he said.

The committee consulted with the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates for the use of paper ballots instead of the electronic voting machines the state uses. The group is headed by Conrad Reynolds, a retired U.S. Army colonel from Conway.

"There were a lot of citizens there who took the ball and ran with it and did their own research, apparently," Reynolds said in an interview Tuesday. "They carried the ball pretty much themselves and [were] able to get that done, and I'm very proud of them for doing that."

Under a new state law, Act 350, 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 an interview Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and sponsor of Act 350, criticized Searcy County's plans to switch to paper ballots, saying the county will have to cover the costs of its own election.

"I wonder if the citizens of that county really know what dollars are going to be taken away from other vital services because they're going to have to pay for their own election," Hammer said.

Reynolds mounted an unsuccessful challenge in the 2022 Republican primary to U.S. Rep. French Hill. Reynolds told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Reynolds also has sued the state over its use of bar-code voting machines, and asked a court to issue a temporary restraining order to bar their use.

In March, the Cleburne County Quorum Court reversed an earlier decision that would have switched that county to paper ballots.