Legal counsel named new interim director for State Board of Election Commissioners

Chris Madison (left), legal counsel for the State Board of Election Commissioners, asks a witness a question during a board hearing in Little Rock in this Jan. 18, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Chris Madison (left), legal counsel for the State Board of Election Commissioners, asks a witness a question during a board hearing in Little Rock in this Jan. 18, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)


The State Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday approved Chris Madison, the board's legal counsel, as the body's interim director.

Madison is replacing Daniel Shults, who will resign effective Nov. 15. Madison's annual salary is $87,169 and he has worked for the state since 2019, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.

The board also agreed to search for a new permanent director, appointing Commissioner Bilenda Harris-Ritter to lead the hiring process. Harris-Ritter, the board's Republican Party designee, said "I had a lot of experience with state hiring when I was general counsel at [the Department of] Corrections."

The decision on who to hire as the next director will be up to the board, while the new director will have discretion on staff hires, Harris-Ritter said.

Shults has served as director of the board since 2019. He was offered an attorney position with the Department of Education. Like Madison, Shults had served as the board's legal counsel before becoming interim director in 2018, replacing Heather McKim, who left to become the chief operations officer for then-Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Shults' salary is $85,766 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.

In his resignation letter, Shults said he was proud to have participated in the implementation of the state's photo ID requirement for voting and "the further development of both our complaint and training programs."

"Thank you for letting me do this and thank you for all of your help and friendship along the way," Shults said at Wednesday's meeting.

The State Board of Election Commissioners mission is "to improve the orderly conduct of elections," according to its website.

The seven-member board is chaired by Secretary of State John Thurston and includes two designees from the governor, Sharon Brooks and Jamie Clemmer. Harris-Ritter serves as the Republican Party's designee and James Harmon Smith III serves as the Democratic designee. Jonathan Williams and William Luther are the Senate president pro tempore and House speaker designees.