Opinion

OPINION | GREG HARTON: Proposal to turn back clock to paper ballots lacks any supporting evidence

"Flying by the seat of your pants" is how some people like to do life.

They're willing, sometimes even eager, to dive into a challenge or decision with very little information, skill or experience. They're going to go with their gut, they explain. Indeed, there are some business leaders who make acting on instinct sound downright heroic.

Talk to any investment manager and at least the ones who care about making money for their clients and they'll explain why steady and informed stock or mutual fund purchases are far more likely to pay off than erratic investing that tries to beat the market. Can a hunch pay off? Of course it can, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

There is a group who wants the voters of Arkansas to operate based on hunch. It's their continued insistence the state's current voting machines are suspect, that they can be easily manipulated so that the preferences of someone other than voters will be counted.

Members of this ballot committee call themselves Restore Election Integrity Arkansas. The group's name should automatically set off some alarm bells among Arkansans. It implies, if it doesn't just come right out and say it, that the state's elections lack integrity. You can't restore what isn't missing, right?

This committee wants voters to pass a constitutional amendment requiring all elections in Arkansas to be conducted with paper ballots. Further, they propose removing language that permits elections to be conducted by voting machines.

Conrad Reynolds of Conway, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill in the 2022 GOP primary, is leading the charge. Reynolds operates a nonprofit Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative, which has sued the state to have its ballot-counting machines thrown out. A circuit judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting its claims that the current electronic system doesn't allow voters to verify their votes before the ballot is cast. The group is appealing.

How should votes be cast? This group says paper ballots on which voters physically mark their choices must be used. In other words, let's turn back the clock decades.

It's like asking Arkansans to go back to rotary phones, Rolodexes and phone books because somebody heard someone dialed a wrong number using an iPhone.

Should Arkansas go back to a paper system simply on the innuendo that something happened or could happen? The state's elections with electronic voting machines and vote counters have never been shown to lack integrity.

Just in October, the State Board of Election Commissioners released results of an audit of 15 counties' vote tabulations.

"In all 15 counties which were the subject of the audit, the voting equipment rendered a faithful and accurate count of the ballots which were submitted to the system for counting," according to the report. "Based on these findings, it is the conclusion of the SBEC that the ExpressVote system accurately tabulated the election results for the 2022 General Election in the State of Arkansas."

It's telling that Restore Election Integrity Arkansas isn't just targeting voting machines. Their proposal would also make any future shift to ranked-choice voting unconstitutional. It's a method that's been used in some locales to avoid runoffs, allowing voters to rank their choices in a single election. The constitutional proposal isn't just about the system used to count ballots, but in how candidates might be selected.

Although disproved over and over, the stolen election claims of Donald Trump and others continue, as though their incessant questioning of election results should be treated as evidence unto itself of fraud or manipulation.

It's a false narrative, and so is the claim Arkansas' voting process lacks integrity.