Arkansas absentee voting rules could change for November election

Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 1:57 PM CDT
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Between election accuracy and protecting health, Boone County Clerk Crystal Graddy is pretty clear on what she would prefer to see for the November general election: as much in-person voting as possible.

"I feel like it is much safer for us to do the electronic voting where someone comes in, they see their ballot, they see that it goes into the tabulator," Graddy said.

Graddy said people at the election center working the election could wipe down every station after it's used, and people would have to stand six feet apart in line.

But this past weekend, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made clear himself: Expanded absentee voting is likely to come this fall.

"We need to have that in November as well in the event hat we have this national emergency because we want to have people safely vote," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson waived a rule for last month's primary, which required people to prove they couldn't vote in person because they were out of town or sick.

Graddy said only about 3% of the 16,000 registered voters in Boone County cast absentee ballots in 2016's presidential election. She believes more people voting absentee could be more of a health risk than coming to the polls if COVID-19 is still active.

"There'd be so many people that would have to handle them. And then when it comes to opening the ballots, how would you sanitize all of that paperwork?" Graddy said.

But University of Arkansas Political Science Professor Janine Parry studied other states which do not require a reason to get an absentee ballot, and sees many positive aspects to it.

"We do see a slight uptick in turnout. Especially among those who were least likely to participate on a regular basis overall. So younger voters, more mobile voters, low-income people," Parry said.

Parry also points to voters having more time to study the issues and said any concerns about voter fraud are cleared up in her research.

"For the places that have used it, and lots of people have tried to measure this, we just don't see any evidence of an uptick in fraud," Parry said.

The professor said usually when voting is made easier and more convenient, it draws in lower income voters, busier voters, and less experienced voters, who typically vote more for Democrats.

She said it's interesting and pleasing that, as a Republican, Hutchinson is willing to make it easier for people to vote, which Republicans in general typically haven't supported over the years.