For a fair, complete, and safe election day: Hutchinson

Asa Hutchinson, AR Governor

LITTLE ROCK – This is Labor Day weekend, which means summer is over, and we’re heading into the election season. This election will be unlike any our nation has ever experienced, and today I’d like to talk about some of the things we are doing to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to safely cast a ballot during the pandemic.

After consulting with Secretary of State John Thurston, I issued an executive order that clarifies questions about absentee voting. Anyone who is concerned that voting in person poses a risk of exposure to COVID-19 may request an absentee ballot.

For those who choose to vote in person, the Secretary of State’s office has provided gloves, masks, and hand cleaner, which the office already has delivered to every county.

Those who vote on touch screens will mark their ballot with a disposable stylus. Once you have voted, you may throw the stylus away. But you might want to consider keeping it as a memento of this unusual election. Also, the stylus will show others that you voted. This year, in order to abide by social distancing rules, poll workers won’t give you an “I Voted” sticker. Instead, “I voted” is printed on the stylus. You can also use the stylus on any of your personal touch-screen devices.

In order to prepare for the unexpected, the Secretary of State’s office has surveyed county officials for their needs. Perhaps the biggest difference this election year will be the number of requests for absentee ballots. Some counties are predicting an increase in requests of 500 percent or greater. The Secretary of State is allocating some of its CARES Act funds to help counties pay for the anticipated increase in the cost of mailing out that many ballots. We want to make sure that every eligible voter who requests an absentee ballot receives one.

For larger counties, the state is providing devices that will count absentee ballots more quickly so we don’t have to rely on a hand count for the thousands of absentee votes cast.

We have made other exceptions to ensure a fair and complete election. My executive order gives counties an extra week to open the outer envelope of the absentee ballots, but they can’t start the count or open the ballot itself until Election Day.

My hope is that every person who is eligible to vote will vote. This is one of the easiest yet most important ways to participate in democracy.

As you prepare to celebrate the end of summer this Labor Day, I trust you will continue to take the precautions to minimize exposure to the coronavirus. I can’t say it too often: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. COVID-19 won’t take the holiday off.