After mostly successful election cycle, Sec. of State’s Office still expects to discuss reform legislation

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — It’s taken more than a week for some states to report their final election results, but Arkansas’ unofficial vote tally for the majority of the state didn’t take long to be released. The Secretary of State Office’s Director of Elections said she was pleased with counties’ handling of this election cycle but noted changes could be on the way.

Leslie Bellamy has worked on Arkansas’ elections for nearly 25 years, and she said this cycle’s been unlike any other.

“I think out counties did a great job handling the flow,” Bellamy said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how early we went home.”

A record number of absentee ballots proved to be a new challenge for election workers to count, but Bellamy said the pre-Election Day processing period made last Tuesday go much smoother than expected.

“I think by the governor’s executive order that extra week did help to where people were ready to go 8:30 Election Day morning,” Bellamy said.

Despite the process going smoothly across the state, Bellamy said the Secretary of State’s Office expects to field conversations about potential changes or improvements going forward.

“I think we’ll see a ton of election reform legislation come through,” Bellamy said.

Bellamy said the state could look at its military voting structure, perhaps giving military members more time to handle the voting process and get their votes tallied.

“I especially feel that our military’s votes should count, and I hate when they don’t make it back on time,” Bellamy said.

State Sen. Trent Garner (R), who served in the military before starting his political career, said this could be a good development for the state.

“I’d like to see specific legislation before I say yes or no on that, but in general, I think giving our military members as much time as needed to make sure their voices are heard is important,” Garner said.

Garner noted military members face unique difficulties in meeting the same deadlines non-military members do when it comes to voting.

“When you’re in the military and you’re still registered here, part of what you have to do is you have to leave the state and leave the country, in some instances, to serve your country,” Garner said. “When that happens, you still want to make sure those military members can participate in our democracy and have their voice heard by their vote.”

Garner said he was hesitant about expanding the absentee voting process but praised the state’s handling of it during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) was correct to sign that executive order. He said he’s not sold on permanent no-excuse absentee voting or further expansion.

“It’s one thing to be out of your state for military service, it’s another thing to be here where you could go vote in person,” Garner said. “We’re seeing massive issues in Pulaski County with the election process. We still to this day don’t know a couple state reps races, who won or lost.”

State Sen. Greg Leding (D) said there are a number of improvements the state should look into, including automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and adding no-excuse absentee balloting as a permanent statute.

“Arkansas, unfortunately, tends to be at the bottom of the list when it comes to both registration and turnout,” Leding said.

Leding said a supermajority Republican legislature may be hesitant to implement drastic changes.

“They will be hesitant for whatever reasons, from the practical to the political,” Leding said. “I do think it’s important that we take at least some steps, because we need to do more to help voters in Arkansas.”

Bellamy said she expects to see legislation proposed on automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting. Still, she said she doesn’t think major changes are necessary.

“I’m not for a lot of reform, but I’m open to conversations,” Bellamy said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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