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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 to reassure voters about the election process.

State legislators authorized the postelection 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 law, 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 that one of the five counties have a population of more than 100,000 and that 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 postelection audit requirements before the approval of Act 888.

Jennifer Price, Washington County's election director, recommended several steps regarding the handling and storage of election materials to make sure counties can comply with the audit if selected. She asked whether the audit will be a hand recount or will be done with the electronic counting machines. 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 that noted Arkansas had no requirement for postelection checks.

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

Robbyn Tumey, a member of the Benton County Election Commission, said the audit will show the system works.

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

Metro on 06/06/2019

Print Headline: NW counties' election officials look ahead to state's postelection audit

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