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story.lead_photo.caption A roll of stickers awaiting distribution to early voters sits on a table at the check-in station at the Pulaski County Courthouse Annex in Little Rock on Monday. Early voting ended Monday for Arkansas' primary and judicial general election, which occurs Tuesday. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A pilot program will have state officials auditing election results from five Arkansas counties in 2020 to check the accuracy of new voting equipment and reassure voters about the election process.

State legislators authorized the post-election audit program during this year's legislative session. Act 888 directs the state Board of Election Commissioners to do the audits no less than 60 days after the 2020 general election. According to the Act, the audit isn't a recount and will have no legal effect on the election's outcome.

The audit was discussed Wednesday at a meeting of county election commissioners and election officials from Northwest Arkansas. The group meets quarterly and Wednesday's session focused on election laws adopted this year.

Daniel Shults, staff director of the state board, said the counties will be chosen in a random drawing from those using the new electronic voting machines. The law mandates one of the five counties have a population of more than 100,000 and the other four have populations of less than 100,000. The audit will include at least one county from each of the state's four Congressional districts.

"This is to ensure the public's belief in the integrity of the election system," Shults said Wednesday.

Shults said Arkansas was one of only 16 states with no post-election audit requirements until the Legislature approved Act 888.

Jennifer Price, Washington County's election director, recommended several steps regarding the handling and storage of election results tapes, thumb drives and other material to make sure counties can comply with the audit if selected. She asked if the audit will be a hand recount or done with the electronic counting machines, and Shults said those details hadn't been decided.

Kim Dennison, Benton County's election coordinator, said her office has begun preparing for an audit. Benton County is one of seven Arkansas counties with a population of more than 100,000. Washington County also has more than 100,000 people.

"We'll be ready, if selected," Dennison said. "With the requirement that one of the counties be over 100,000, it's a good chance we'll be one of them."

Renee Oelschlaeger, chairman of the Washington County Election Commission, said the audit program is a response to a review of state election systems pointing out Arkansas had no requirement for post-election checks.

"The thought was that is something that's easily corrected so we will implement it," Oelschlaeger said.

Robbyn Tumey, a member of Benton County's commission, said the audits will show the system works.

"Transparency is what we should be providing and I don't have a problem with doing that," Tumey said.

NW News on 06/06/2019

Print Headline: Counties readying for election audits

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