CELESTE WILLIAMS: Urges governor to prepare for more absentee voting in November.

Celeste Williams, the Democratic candidate for Third District Congress, has joined those criticizing Gov. Asa Hutchinson for refusing to move ahead with plans for easier and increased absentee voting in November.

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Williams, who lives near Bella Vista and is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Womack, issued a release that highlights Hutchinson’s changing position, now generally negative in keeping with Donald Trump’s aversion to mail-in ballots. Hutchinson’s latest excuse is that it is too early to decide. But, as many have noted, planning is necessary.

Said Williams, who is a nurse practitioner, in a news release:

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“The number one responsibility of public officials is to keep people safe. Mailing in a ballot is far safer during a public health crisis than going to the polls in person, especially for those in high-risk categories.” Williams said. “It’s a matter of protecting the health and safety of voters and poll workers, while ensuring everyone’s right to vote is preserved.”

Hutchinson’s comments on no-excuse absentee voting have been confusing and unclear to Arkansas voters. On Wednesday May 20, in his on-camera interview with President Trump in D.C., Hutchinson said he supported no-excuse absentee voting by mail. He said, “In terms of the election in November, there’s a lot of discussion about how we can make the vote accessible, if there is [sic] continued worries from a health standpoint,” the Republican governor said. “And we want to be able to use no-excuse absentee voting as a way to do it.”

But one day later, on the same day Arkansas had its highest daily total increase of cases – up 455 to a total of 5,458 – Hutchinson backtracked from his view that safe voting should be accessible to all.

He gave an unconvincing rebuttal on his flip-flop in Friday’s press briefing saying, “This is not on the front burner of my issues right now.”

The state of Arkansas has already received $4.7 million in funding to help ensure every Arkansan can safely cast their ballot this November. Election officials from Washington and Benton County said their top priority is to use the federal grants they received to cover printing absentee ballots, envelopes and postage. (Source)

“Our election officials want mail-in ballots, we already have the funding for it, our internal survey showed 98% of respondents favored no-excuse absentee ballots, and the Governor allowed no-excuse absentee ballots in the March special election,” said Celeste Williams. “I am concerned that a trip to Washington has caused the Governor to suddenly change his mind. Voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Protecting the health of the public during a pandemic shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Everyone’s right to vote safely must be protected.”

During Hutchinson’s press conference Thursday, he said, “What I expressed support for was no-excuse early voting. In terms of mail in or vote by mail scenario that’s not the law in Arkansas… That’s not on the front burner of considerations.” Even when questioned by a reporter, Hutchinson, again, said, “I did say absentee yesterday, and I intended to refer to early voting. Did I allow no-excuse absentee ballots in the special elections?” When the reporter responded “yes,” Hutchinson responded, “Well, we will look at that. I will review what we’ve done.”

To be clear, you don’t need an excuse to vote early at a polling location in Arkansas – everyone is able to, so “no excuse early voting” does not make sense. However, in order to make absentee ballots available to every voter who wants one, preparations must begin now.

FACT:  Governor Hutchinson has expressed support for no-excuse absentee balloting:

  • In an executive orders issued on March 20 (source), April 24 (source), and May 11 (source)

  • In a public town hall on April 9 (source)

  • In a public statement on May 13 (source)

  • In a nationally televised joint interview with President Trump on May 20 (source)

  • He started back-tracking his support for it only after his meeting with President Trump in press briefings May 21 (source) and May 22 (source)

FACT:  The U.S. Mail is a service used for a range of important services including federal and state tax returns, U.S.-issued passports, census forms, state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses.

FACT:  Voting by mail increases turnout overall and does not benefit one political party over the other (source)

FACT: Arkansas must begin preparing now in order to make absentee ballots available to all voters (source)