Time is running out for Gov. Asa Hutchinson to send a signal he supports safe participation in November voting by ordering no-excuse absentee voting as he did for primary runoff elections.

He’s been reluctant to commit. Vote suppression is a key element of Republican dogma. Except not entirely today.

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Donald Trump and his allies argue that absentee voting by mail — which is legal in all  50 states — is subject to fraud. There’s scant evidence of that. But there IS evidence that mail voting increases participation by voters of all stripes.

In many Republican states, elected officials are working to protect the franchise because of coronavirus concerns. For example, despite a misleading campaign against mail voting (the fact that some people don’t return absentee ballots they requested is NOT proof of anything nefarious), Kentucky moved ahead under a Republican secretary of state, Pro Publica reports.

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The secretary of state ignored a bogus complaint of fraud sent to a staff member.

Only days later, Kentucky finalized its plan for the biggest increase in vote by mail in the state’s history. Secretary of State Mike Adams said he had little trouble persuading legislators to pass the measure. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised on social media and elsewhere,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats both have been supportive of what we did.”

Kentucky isn’t alone.

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But now, even as Trump has joined these advocates in denouncing vote by mail, Republican election administrators are rejecting their concerns. In Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and West Virginia, GOP officials are expanding vote by mail. Even in Alabama, where Secretary of State John Merrill has long spoken out against vote by mail, the state has added the coronavirus to the reasons for which voters can request an absentee ballot.

Election officials in these states say they have confidence in their ballot security practices. Kentucky’s expansion of vote by mail included “ballot integrity safeguards, such as an application requiring personally identifiable information in order to obtain an absentee ballot, a barcode tracking system for all outgoing and incoming absentee ballots, and proactive maintenance of the voter rolls,” said Miranda Combs, Mike Adams’ spokeswoman. Also, because they don’t see an alternative if the pandemic persists into November, many Republican officials who would otherwise oppose widening vote by mail are showing they are open to it. And they’re aware that Americans support voting by mail by a 2 to 1 margin.

“While the Washington politicians may not agree, our polling shows 70% of Georgia voters approve of the absentee ballot application process and plan on voting by mail due to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Jordan Fuchs, a Republican and Georgia’s deputy secretary of state. “As a result, Georgia has seen more than 1 million absentee ballot requests, with more than 900,000 ballots dropped into the mail system.”

 

Why not Arkansas, governor? He’s been asked repeatedly by good government advocates such as the League of Women Voters. Secretary of State John Thurston has been pressed to use his federal virus aid money to prepare county officials for an increase in mail ballots. The ballots WILL increase regardless. Unless Hutchinson instructs law enforcement to investigate each request for an absentee ballot to see if they REALLY will be unavoidably unable to vote in person in November.

Time is of the essence. Deadlines are approaching for preparation of ballots and assuring means to handle them.