Another worthy topic for the governor’s daily news briefing: Will he take steps to ensure people can vote safely in the November election?
He has declined so far to say if he’d renew his executive order that allowed no-excuse absentee voting in some runoff elections (the ones of most important, to the governor anyway, were a couple of Republican legislative contests.) It’s premature, he has suggested.
But it is not. If there’s to be a meaningful increase in absentee voting in which the franchise is protected, preparations must begin now.
So says a letter to the governor from the League of Women Voters, Indivisible Arkansas and Citizens First Congress.
They note the disaster that unfolded in Wisconsin when people were forced to the polls and infections resulted. They agree that the circumstances of the pandemic in November are impossible to predict, but they note that medical authorities have predicted a second spike of the virus in the fall.
Deadlines are coming soon for county officials who oversee elections, the letter notes. it also notes other states (some are led by Republicans) are moving now to facilitate mail voting.
Candidates must be provided to election commissions by Aug. 20 and absentee ballot forms must be available by Sept. 4 (preferably in a new form to allow no-excuse voting). The forms must be delivered to clerks for mailing Sept. 17. The letter continues:
A smooth, chaos-free absentee balloting process requires months of preparation. County Clerks receive the printed absentee ballots from the County Board of Election Commissioners, and the clerks mail the ballots to requesting voters. Any sudden, massive, and late increase of absentee ballot applications could be a disaster for our clerks and election commissions. Allowing for no excuse absentee voting now, rather than later, before the ballot preparation actually begins, would benefit our election officials in the following ways:
● County boards of election commissioners could order printing of a sufficient number of ballots for mailing;
● County clerks could order printing of a sufficient envelopes for mailing and returning;
● US Postal Service and mail-packagers would have sufficient time to accommodate what is already proving to be mail-in and absentee balloting
demand as never before seen
● Additional county staffing could be hired and trained to handle the upswing in voting absentee.
Specifically, we urge you to issue an Executive Order as soon as possible to authorize “no excuse” absentee balloting by Arkansas voters in the General Election, to give the Secretary of State, counties, and the USPS sufficient months to prepare prior to the August 20th deadline for when ballots will be determined.
Early voting polls and election day polls would still be required and available. But locations could be reduced, if necessary. We are sure that you, too, are mindful of the average age of our Arkansas poll workers, and the unique and deadly threat COVID-19 poses to them. Arkansas cannot find itself in Wisconsin’s position of being unable to safely staff in-person polling locations.
They ask for a meeting with the governor to discuss the issue. What say, Gov. Hutchinson”?
UPDATE: The same groups have written Secretary of State John Thurston with suggestions on how he could spend more than $4 million in virus relief money to improve absentee ballot access in the fall.