Secretary of State John Thurston earlier this month wrote the U.S. Election Assistance Commission seeking $4.7 million to “prevent, prepare for and respond to” the coronavirus crisis.

From the letter:


It sounds like Thurston is preparing, with good reason, for an increase in absentee ballots. However, until the governor issues an executive order or the legislature meets in a special session to change rules, a voter must theoretically have a good reason to be unable to appear in person to vote. So far, the governor has not said he’s ready to allow no-excuse absentee voting in November as he allowed in the recent primary runoff elections.


He should do so, of course. The state also should move, as other states have, to mail voting — coronavirus or no. But this is a Republican state now and easier voting is prohibited by Republican dogma. At least in Arkansas. Several Republican governors elsewhere have moved to recognize the need for more absentee voting.

If there is a massive influx of paper ballots, new machinery would be needed to help in the counting. Another useful state expense would be putting return postage on ballot return envelopes. Currently, voters must pay for the postage.


I asked Thurston’s office about the letter. Chris Powell responded:

As part of the requirements for this HAVA grant under the CARES Act, we had to send in a letter accepting the funds and how we expect to use them. This grant is for the 2020 General Election only and specifically related to COVID-19 preparations. Specifics of those plans are still being ironed out, but we do anticipate the possibility of increased use of absentee ballots and so we want to be prepared for any contingencies and make sure the counties can be assisted financially in this process.

I commented that a big question was whether no-excuse absentees would be allowed (would it be a valid excuse to say you were old and sick and unwilling to mix with people at a crowded polling place?) and, if so, what type of demand that might create.

Powell responded:

Right, I’m sure those questions will be addressed a little closer to the election.

Not too close to be too late to be helpful, I hope.


Another lesson learned from Wisconsin is the usefulness of an extension of time after the election to count a massive rise in absentee ballots.