What did Gov. Asa Hutchinson mean in comments Wednesday at the White House about November voting when he mostly said what Donald Trump wanted to hear about opening for business.

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Trump offered Hutchinson the opportunity to chime in on Trump’s aversion to mail voting (except when Trump does it.)

A CNN correspondent reported the exchange in the manner shown above and many other outlets picked up Hutchinson’s remark that he was “looking at” expanding absentee ballot access. Did he mean by mail?

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The report from Frank Lockwood in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette put it this way:

“If people mail in ballots, there’s a lot of illegality,” Trump said.

Asked by Trump to weigh in, Hutchinson stressed the importance of ensuring that the person casting the vote is entitled to do so.

“Of course, Arkansas supported a voter ID law,” Hutchinson said.

“Good,” Trump replied.

Hutchinson also touted early voting as an alternative.

“In terms of the election in November, there’s a lot of discussion about how we can make the vote accessible if there is continued worry from a health standpoint,” Hutchinson said.

“We want to be able to use no-excuse [in-person early] voting as a way to do it, but it’s still a person-to-person identification of the individual versus the mail-in variety that, as you said, can be manipulated,” he said.

Hutchinson didn’t say the words “early voting,” according to a transcript generated by 40/29.

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The transcript quoted the exchange this way after Trump railed about alleged voter fraud:

[Trump] Do you have any comment on that?

 

[Hutchinson] Well, I do. Of course. Arkansas supported a voter i D. Law. But in terms of the election in November, there’s a lot of discussion about how we can make a vote accessible if there is continued worry from a health standpoint. And we want to be able to use, uh, no excuse absolute no excuse absentee voting as a way to do it. But it’s still a person to person identification of the individual versus the male in [sic] variety that, as you said, can be manipulated. So we’re looking at that, but way[sic] believe in the identification of the vote.

We already have in-person early voting. It is not absentee voting; it is time-shifting at a reduced number of conventional polls. It is no-excuse. It can sometimes mean lining up with hundreds of people in close quarters. If this is all Hutchinson was talking about, he was essentially offering status quo.

Identification (a photocopy of your ID) IS required for mail absentee balloting though there’s a process by which this can be sidestepped. The truth is, while you must by law say you unavoidably can’t be present at a poll election day (or be sick, disabled or serving overseas in the military), there’s never been any auditing of this. Feel too uncertain about your health to present yourself at the polls election day? I’d say apply for an absentee ballot and fill it in.

Even if Hutchinson is “looking” at expanding absentee vote options, looking is not doing.

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To date, Hutchinson has provided no encouraging response to entreaties from the League of Women Voters and others to facilitate more absentee voting, a process several other states, including several led by Republicans, have adopted because of the concerns that November will still hold health peril from coronavirus. Several states vote by mail as a matter of routine.

It looks to me like Asa did his familiar two-step yesterday — sounding moderate while hewing to the Republican line. His voter ID comment is straight from the GOP vote suppression playbook.

He could clear this up at his coronavirus briefing today by giving a no-wiggle answer to a question about November voting and how, specifically, he will provide a means to allay fears of voters about going to conventional polls.

Given the national platform with Trump, Hutchinson wasn’t likely to disagree with him at yesterday’s staged event. But Trump deserves a rebuke for continued attacks on voting. For all his lies, evidence of vote fraud is minuscule.

Trump’s tear yesterday about absentee voting, included a string of lies (“false claims,” was the New York Times euphemism) about mail voting procedures in Michigan and Nevada.

Michigan is mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters. Sounds like a plan for Arkansas. Allowing a mail-back vote for any reason, including fear of in-person voting, sounds like a plan, even with Arkansas’ difficult ID requirement. Hutchinson allowed no-excuse absentee voting for primary runoffs in Arkansas. But he says it’s too early to think health concerns might still be a problem in November. Two things wrong with that: 1) It is not. Medical experts say the virus problem will persist then. 2) It is also is not because preparations are needed months in advance for counties to prepare to handle increased absentee ballots, which would have to be modified to reflect a no-excuse provision.

Even if Trump is right — and studies have said he is not — that mail voting somehow harms Republicans more than Democrats, it’s likely of little consequence in blood-red Arkansas.

Do right, governor. Help people vote.

UPDATE: Asked about the topic at a news conference today, the governor made clear he’s not “looking” at no-excuse absentee voting and that his remarks about “absentee” voting Wednesday were about early voting. As I wrote originally, early voting is already no-excuse.

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From the news conference this afternoon:

Hutchinson clarified his remarks on absentee voting. He did NOT mean to suggest he’d approve of no-excuse mail absentee voting. He said he supported no-excuse early voting (that’s the law already) but also perhaps more early voting sites and other ways to make it easier to vote early in smaller crowds. That would be safer, he said,

He apparently didn’t understand he’d allowed no-excuse mail absentee voting in the recent primary runoff elections.  “Did I allow that?” he asked. He said he’d have to review it.

He said mail voting was not on the “front burner.” He said “that’s not the law in Arkansas.” Nor, he could have added, is expansion of early voting or no-excuse mail absentees, which he authorized once by emergency order and could do again. It became clear he isn’t inclined in that direction.

He said there’s “not broad support” for mail voting. He claimed there were security issues. He said when he mentioned “absentee” voting with Donald Trump, he meant early voting.

He also said it was too early to determine the need in November. But if steps aren’t taken soon, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Stay tuned. I think there’ll be an independent drive to encourage mail absentee voting. Applications are online. It is cumbersome. And it could be streamlined. But waiting for the governor to do it looks like a long shot after his remarks this afternoon.

I’d sent him a series of questions about this in advance of the news conference. His press office did not respond.

Susan Inman, a veteran of elections work in the secretary of state’s office and the Pulaski Election Commission, gave me this response to questions about voting absentee by reason of unavoidable absence.

I think that’s exactly what needs to happen. I’m working with Indivisible and others doing a voter education campaign on how to vote absentee.

And there is no law requiring proof. No one verifies the reason. The clerk has no authority to challenge, either. The voter signs the request form and that’s all there is to it. The clerk verifies the info from the voter records and when ballots for the requested election are available, the clerks mails the ballot.

Talk about freedom fighting. Voting beats shunning masks while toting assault rifles all hollow.