By Wendy Underhill
Turnout means everything in elections. And this week, elections technology meant something for 39 Arkansas legislators who turned out for a packed meeting where elections technology took center stage.
Senator Eddie Joe Williams (R) and Representative Andrea Lea (R), chairs of the Senate and House Committees on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, welcomed NCSL to The Natural State. Their panels joined forces with members of the Joint Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology, for a one-day, two-goal plan. The goals: learn about the status of elections administration in Arkansas, and begin a conversation on election ideas for the future. The event was part of NCSL’s Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
Photo: From left, Arkansas Representative Andrea Lea (R), Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis and Arkansas Senator Eddie Joe Williams (R).
In the morning, the group took a field trip to Saline County, a half-hour’s drive outside Little Rock, to see how their elections are run. Together, we met county clerk Doug Curtis and his detail-oriented staff. We saw, touched and even experimented with a host of interlocking electronic equipment and programs. We learned that 50 percent of voters cast their ballots ahead of Election Day in Saline County; that Arkansas’ brand new voter ID law has so far had minimal impact on the elections operation, with the first big election to use it coming up in November; and that an election official has to be an IT manager above almost everything else.
During the afternoon, legislators asked questions—and they were good ones. In fact, these questions were ones that legislators in all states could be asking. So, to jump-start similar conversations elsewhere, here they are:
- With voting equipment nearing the end of its life, I hear there’s no more money coming from the feds. Where will funding come from in the future?
- Who uses Internet voting now? How can online voting be kept secure and private?
- What are the feds doing about testing and certification? Can states do it themselves?
- What are the special voting challenges people with cognitive disabilities face, and especially veterans with traumatic brain injuries?
- How do we know that people who vote during the early voting period won’t try to vote a second time? Do computers register that they’ve voted already?
- In counties that are so small that they have no paid staff, how can all these complicated systems work?
- Would Arkansas’ administrators prefer to use only electronic voting equipment?
If you want the answers, send an email to the Election Program at NCSL.
Wendy Underhill covers election policy for NCSL.