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No one has a crystal ball that can say definitively how much of a threat covid-19 will pose come fall.

Those of us who tend to listen to the scientists, however, have heard repeated warnings that the pandemic may not yet have shown its worst.

The warnings are serious, imagining the effects of a summer in which people fail to keep their distance from one another, refuse to wear face masks and lose the inhibitions that have for the past few months kept so many of us at home and safe.

Our collective behavior is supposedly our best defense, for now, against further spread of the disease. Yet, as controls have eased nationwide, it is obvious some people will remain wary while others throw caution to the wind.

Our collective behavior is most likely making all the more certain that the scientists' predictions will be confirmed, that the virus will return with a vengeance in the fall and winter.

Meanwhile, significant outbreaks in nursing homes, meat processing plants and prisons keep happening, threatening the people there and in the communities where they are located.

The coronavirus is not going away. It is out there, having already infected millions worldwide and killing more than 91,000 in the U.S. alone. It will keep moving through the population until there is an effective vaccine.

The fall, complicated by onset of the flu season, promises new challenges to the health care system in this nation, especially if covid-19 spreads as warned.

It is against that scary backdrop that we anticipate the 2020 general election, when voters may have to get out in wintry conditions, line up too close to each other to observe physical distancing and risk exposure to covid-19.

While little can be done to eliminate the threat of the virus, the voting problem can and should be alleviated in Arkansas, if not nationwide.

The answer is "no excuse" absentee voting in the Nov. 3 general election, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson can authorize through his emergency powers.

A more permanent provision allowing vote by mail in this state would be better, but an executive order can apply this fall, when the pandemic could well be spiking.

Five states already conduct all elections entirely by mail. Far more common is an option to vote by mail, usually through no-excuse absentee voting.

Arkansas ordinarily allows absentee voting but requires a valid excuse.

But, citing the outbreak of covid-19, Gov. Hutchinson issued an emergency order earlier this year allowing absentee ballots for all qualified electors who requested them for then-upcoming primary and special elections.

It was an option for any voter who didn't want to go to the polls on Election Day or take advantage of early voting.

The state made it through that accommodation and could do so again for the general election, were the governor to extend the order.

He just needs to do it sooner than later to allow those who actually conduct elections -- from the secretary of state to the county officials and local election commissioners -- time to prepare for the change.

The job cannot be done overnight nor without additional cost. But it can be done to make it easier -- and safer -- for voters to participate in the general election.

As logical as such a transition may seem, it poses a political problem for our Republican governor.

Voting by mail is strongly opposed by President Trump and some, if not most, Republicans.

Trump, who himself votes absentee by mail, is persuaded that absentee voting is rife with fraud.

He and others assert that a mail-in system would advantage Democrats, even though studies don't back up that argument.

To Gov. Hutchinson's credit, he said recently that he supports no-excuse mail-in voting. He just thinks it is too early to exercise his emergency power for an election that won't come until November.

He can't wait too long, or there won't be time enough to prepare for that election.

Come on, governor. Set this change in motion and be the example for other governors who might similarly protect virus-wary voters in their own states.

Commentary on 05/20/2020

Print Headline: Really, no excuse

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