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Arkansas Legislature debates two election bills

Arkansas State Capitol building.
Chris Hickey
Two bills advanced in the Arkansas Legislature Monday regarding the way votes are counted.

The Arkansas Legislature debated two bills Tuesday that would affect the way elections are conducted in the state.

Senate Bill 250 would require each paper ballot cast in Arkansas to have a corresponding electronic vote tabulated through a service chosen by the Secretary of State. Counties are still allowed to use paper ballots, though they’re responsible for the cost.

Several public commenters spoke against the bill in a meeting of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee, saying they feared hacked machines could be used to sway an election.

Leslie Bellamy, the director of elections for the Arkansas Secretary of State, did not share their concerns.

“I have great confidence in our counties and how they perform, and how they want to perform,” she said. “And I think everyone sitting here today was duly elected because Arkansas has good fair elections.”

Bellamy says voting machines are not connected to the internet, results are kept in multiple places and counties are required to do logic and accuracy tests on machines before an election.

Rep. Cindy Crawford, R-Fort Smith, decided to vote against the bill out of respect for the people in her district.

“And when this one came out, my constituents went berserk,” she said. “And they are still going berserk, they do not trust what is going on. I don't know how to fix that.”

In the house, Rep. Rebecca Burkes, R-Lowell, put forth a bill to ban the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots in Arkansas. In advocating for SB258, Burkes referenced “2000 Mules” a discredited conspiracy film that argues ballots were illegally placed in public ballot boxes during the 2020 election.

Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill. She said voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in Arkansas and ballot boxes are rarely used anywhere in the state.

“We already have abysmal voter turnout in our state,” she said. “And this bill does nothing to help increase our civic engagement," McCullough said, explaining that ballot boxes may have “afforded a voter the chance to cast their first vote.”

The bill passed the House and now goes to the Senate for a vote.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.