From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
It’s not too soon to begin preparing for the November general elections, to minimize any problems that may be caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
That’s why I’ve been in contact with the Arkansas Secretary of State, who works with the state Board of Election Commissioners to ensure that voting places are accessible and that voting machines are accurate and reliable.
The potential problems caused by the coronavirus are obvious. For example, the overwhelming majority of poll workers are senior citizens. It’s vital that we ensure their health and safety on Election Day.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that we have alternatives in case a large number of poll workers cannot work on Election Day.
What if only 20 percent of poll workers decide they cannot risk spending all day at their voting places?
The governor has stated publicly on several occasions that he would support no excuse absentee voting if the coronavirus continues.
Are we prepared in the event that 75 percent of eligible voters decide to mail in their ballots? That’s a lot to ask of our county clerks and election officials in the Secretary of State’s office.
We need to address these questions with a sense of urgency, because there are factors over which we have no control.
It’s possible that the Post Office will not be functioning at full capacity, because in September it is scheduled to exhaust its current funding.
It’s also possible that we experience a second wave of the pandemic. That would require renewed enforcement of social distancing, and continued restrictions on public gatherings.
There is a lot of interest in this year’s presidential election, so voter turnout is probably going to be relatively high. That makes it all the more important that we start planning now.
My suggestion to the Secretary of State was to form a broad-based committee to begin working on alternatives now.
The committee would prepare for all the possibilities I’ve listed, and also look at what other states are doing.
We certainly don’t need to repeat the fiasco that happened in Wisconsin. They went ahead with their election in early April, in spite of widespread health concerns. That caused a flurry of lawsuits, and many polling places were closed.
Absentee voting was higher than usual, and voters who did go to the polls were exposed to COVID-19. Two weeks after the election, 52 poll workers tested positive for the virus.
In the United States, you shouldn’t have to risk your health in order to exercise your Constitutional right to vote.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that we’ll experience problems on Election Day. These are issues that we can see clearly on the horizon, so let’s get to work now on solutions.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.