A handful of runoff elections are scheduled in Arkansas March 31 and this is problematic in the time of a pandemic, to put it mildly.
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Absentee voting is available for all unable or unwilling or afraid to go to public polls. This thanks to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who by executive order, has allowed no-excuse absentee voting.
However, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Christian Ministerial Alliance and the Arkansas Community Insitute wrote Secretary of State John Thurston asking him to extend Tuesday’s deadline for
submission of applying to receive an absentee ballots by mail, fax or e-mail until March 31, the same deadline for an in-person request. His standard response to other pandemic-related requests for changes in election procedures has been to say he’s bound by statute.
The letter also wants a 10-day extension from election day to count absentee ballots and for Thurston to make clear a photo ID does not have to be presented for an absentee ballot. The voter may sign to attest he or she is a registered voter. The letter asks for other accommodations in light of the crisis.
UPDATE: Susan Inman, former election coordinator in Pulaski County, alerts me that the executive order by the governor already waived the seven-day deadline for mail, fax or e-mail absentee applications. Some of the other requests in the Legal Defense Fund letter are beyond the bounds of the executive order.
Down in Jefferson County, the Election Commission met last night to consolidate polling places for a justice of the peace runoff election because the mayor of Sherrill refused the use of city hall. The commission also voted bonus pay to poll workers for “hazardous duty.”
Arkansas is lucky. It held its primary elections, not counting the scattered runoffs, largely unaffected by coronavirus. Other states have had virus delays.
And what about November, when the future of the United States as we once knew it is on the line?
The answer? It is time for universal voting by mail. It works. Arkansas needs to get on board at the fiscal session. From an advocate:
Oregon adopted a vote-by-mail system in 1998, and four other states have followed since (Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, and Washington). In these states, all registered voters receive a ballot; they then mail it back or drop it off at a designated location.
Calls to expand vote-by-mail nationwide are now ubiquitous in the face of social distancing.
California is moving in that direction. Officials in Arizona and New Mexico want authorization to send ballots to all voters. Advocates and scholars made the case for universal mail voting weeks ago. And some federal bills would help states get there.
In many states, though, implementing vote-by-mail would require a lot of work. It is a shift that raises challenges ranging from logistics and capacity to concerns about voter access and safeguards against suppression.
The article continues with pitfalls and strategies to avoid them. But the time is now to do the work and address the challenges. The core problem is not logistics in Arkansas and other red states. It’s Republican resistance to broadening the franchise. The Republicans want to suppress voting, not encourage it among those with the most obstacles to participation.