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story.lead_photo.caption John Thurston

State Land Commissioner John Thurston led state Rep. Trevor Drown late Tuesday in the race to earn the Republican nomination for Arkansas secretary of state.

Unofficial results showed Thurston had won about 51 percent of votes counted Tuesday evening with most of the state's precincts reporting.

By the numbers

Secretary of State

• Trevor Drown: 82,252

• John Thurston: 85,164

The winner moves on to face Democrat Susan Inman of Little Rock and Libertarian Christopher Olson of Viola in the Nov. 6 general election. The winner of that race will succeed Secretary of State Mark Martin, who is term-limited.

The secretary of state's office oversees elections, maintains the state Capitol grounds and processes a number of services for business. The next secretary of state will serve on the Board of Apportionment -- along with the governor and attorney general -- to redraw the state legislative district lines after the 2020 U.S. census.

Both Drown and Thurston acknowledged that gerrymandered districts exist, and they pledged to draw the boundaries in a sensible way. Both oppose a proposal to create an independent commission to redraw the legislative map, saying that Democrats have drawn the lines in the past and it's the Republicans' turn now.

Thurston said recently that he wants to show voters, "Yes, we can draw lines that make sense, that are fair to the voter, that keep communities together."

Drown said he's experienced with mapping software that can draw better districts.

"It can be done in a way that people have faith in the process again," he said in a recent interview, "because I can tell you as a legislator, talking to both Democrats and Republicans in my district, they don't like the way the lines are drawn."

Thurston, 45, of East End was elected in 2010 as commissioner of state lands, and he said his eight years at the helm of that office has prepared him to be secretary of state.

Before holding that office, Thurston worked in ministry operations at Agape Church in Little Rock.

Drown, 47, of Dover has been the District 68 state representative since 2014. Drown first ran for public office in 2010 as an independent in the U.S. Senate race that Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., won. He spent the previous three decades in the Army National Guard -- a Green Beret -- and as a UPS driver. He and his wife also owned a small restaurant coffee and tea supply company.

Both candidates support the state's voter-ID law, which is currently being challenged in court, and they emphasized the importance of securing funding for counties to upgrade their voting equipment.

They disagreed about moving the state toward allowing online voter registration. Drown is hesitant to support such a move because he said it could lead to voter fraud.

Thurston said it makes sense and is inevitable as technology advances. He pointed to other state services such as vehicle registration and drivers licenses, which can be renewed online, as examples.

In a mostly amicable race, the candidates did take jabs at each other's conservative credentials. Thurston noted Drown's 2010 independent Senate run, suggesting that he became a Republican when it was "expedient" during his state House campaign.

Drown responded that he's always been a Republican, and he said the 2010 campaign happened because he was asked to run independently because the Republican field was so crowded.

Drown pointed out that Thurston missed several general elections and Republican primaries in the past. Thurston said he could have been a more engaged voter, but he added that much of the 2000s was spent taking care of his wife, who died in 2007 of cancer.

Both candidates pledged to support their primary opponent in November's general election.

The next secretary of state will serve a four-year term and draw a yearly salary of $94,554.

NW News on 05/23/2018

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