Speaking of things the governor won’t do — such as require the use of face masks in more public places.
There’s also the matter of November elections. Why won’t he cut through the accumulating legal arguments and declare no-excuse mail absentee voting in November and be sure that sufficient COVID-19 relief money is provided to the counties to both encourage this type of voting and also to handle a big increase in mail absentee ballots.
You are currently required, under penalty of perjury for lying, to attest you will be “unavoidably absent” from the polls to receive an absentee ballot. I wrote months ago that, because the absentee ballot application requires no specific reason for attesting to that unavoidable absence, just about anything, including fear of catching a deadly disease, should suffice. Secretary of State John Thurston, who’s currently being sued to make absentee ballot access easier, says that’s his opinion. Gov. Asa Hutchinson says that sounds good to him. A 1985 Arkansas Supreme Court case seems to already set this precedent
But … clarity is preferred. And so far, the governor just won’t do anything about it.
Should a crusading Republican vote suppressor see that a wealth of mail absentees turned one election or another against a GOP candidate, you could see a court inquiry into absentee balloting. With the current Supreme Court, who knows what the outcome might be. (With Republicans Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack you could make a safe bet.)
An executive order would fix things and get things moving quickly. We should mail absentee applications to all voters. Counties should be prepared to handle the influx. The state should supply postage-paid envelopes to return applications and ballots.
Hutchinson dithers. He’s a Republican. Less voting is GOP religion in Arkansas, though smarter Republicans in other states know some of THEIR voters might like a safer means of voting, too. Think about your average Fox viewer — old white men.
Hutchinson insists he’s waiting for guidance from the state Board of Election Commissioners. I inquired of that Republican-controlled body when the public might expect an answer and whether any information had been exchanged by commissioners or the agency or the governor on the matter.
Daniel Shults, director of the board, responded:
The SBEC has not had the opportunity to meet since this request has been made. The Chair has informed me that a meeting should be scheduled; however, the exact date has not yet been set. I anticipate a date being set in the next few days for a time in mid-July.
I have attached the Guidance adopted and issued to the counties for the Primary Runoff which, as you will remember, occurred as this situation was rapidly evolving in Arkansas. The sharply abbreviated timeline to prepare, the unique nature of the runoff, and the fact that there was much that was unknown at the time all played into the recommendations in this document. I anticipate that an updated guidance will be issued for the November elections and we are working with state and county election officials, as well as looking at what has worked for our colleagues in other states, to develop the most effective strategies to ensure voting is safe and secure in Arkansas.
I have asked our staff to review our records to see if we have any other responsive documents. The attached guidance is the only position the Board has taken which addresses how COVID-19 relates to absentee voting. Secretary Thurston has also recently made public statements on this issue which you may want to review.
I hope this information is helpful. I will be happy to let you know when we have an exact date set for the next SBEC meeting.
To a followup question Friday, he responded:
I am still trying to nail down our meeting date and I wanted to have that for you when I responded. I should have a date my the end of the day or Monday at the latest.
So maybe Monday. The governor need not wait. He should act.