Arkansas isn’t ditching voting machines for paper ballots, despite claims online

There’s been no statewide change in how voters cast ballots, elections officials and voter rights groups say.
A sign announces that early voting is underway outside the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville, Ark. (Flyer photo/File)

Residents will still continue to use voting machines in nearly every county in Arkansas, despite claims online that the state as a whole is ditching voting machines.

One rural county recently approved a plan to start using paper ballots that voters must mark by hand, and a final vote on that decision is expected later this month.

“BREAKING: Arkansas will use hand-marked paper ballots in all future elections,” one user wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Chris Powell, a spokesperson for Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston’s office, in an email called the claim “100% false information.” The vast majority of the state will continue to use the ES&S ExpressVote system for upcoming elections, he said.

Under the current process, voters select their candidates on a touch-screen display. The machine then makes corresponding marks on a paper ballot, which is printed out and run through a ballot scanner, which tabulates the vote.

Conrad Reynolds, CEO of the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, a local group that’s been pushing for counties to switch to hand-marked and hand-counted ballots, confirmed the posts are spreading misinformation. “There is no law or anything at this point saying that the state will go to a paper ballot, period,” he said by phone.

Efforts to bring back hand-marked and hand-counted paper ballots gained momentum after the 2020 election, fueled by conspiracy theories that voting systems were manipulated, leading to former President Donald Trump’s defeat. But election experts say hand counts take longer and are far less reliable than counting with machines.

In Arkansas, just one of the state’s 75 counties has so far decided to switch back to more traditional voting methods, according to Powell and Reynolds.

Election commissioners in Searcy County, a rural district with a population of less than 8,000, voted last month to begin using paper ballots that voters fill-in by hand. However that decision still requires a second vote to be finalized.

Meanwhile, Cleburne County voted earlier this year to adopt a similar hand-marked ballot process, but the county of nearly 25,000 residents rescinded the decision just months later.

Arkansas lawmakers also passed a law this year requiring any counties that switch to hand-marked paper ballots to first tally ballots by machine in order to quickly turn around the initial election results. The ballots can be counted by hand later for the official results.