This would be Part 3 in the irregular series on how in the world we're going to get this big election done in this pandemic.
Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth told me Wednesday morning when I called that all was going well on the new no-excuse absentee voting frontier, except for time taken away from normal duties by Freedom of Information Act requests coming from Republicans.
The latest had come in minutes before from Ryan James, a private-sector government affairs representative who formerly worked for Tim Griffin when Griffin was a congressman, and then for the state Insurance Department. He currently is first vice chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Committee.
That might explain the "well done" reply from state GOP chairman Doyle Webb on the email request from James seen by the clerk's office. Webb received a blind copy and apparently hit "reply all" when he gave James the pat on the back.
It's more funny than meaningful. There is no secret which party wants to make voting hard.
James' request is for the clerk to produce all records detailing communications about protocols being followed in the verifying of absentee application signatures to make sure they're not from ... I don't know ... socialists or rioters, perhaps.
The Republicans are worried half to death that a lot of people are going to get away with voting. That seems to irk them.
It can't be that they're worried about Donald Trump losing Arkansas. All I can figure, implausibly, is that they are scared for French Hill against Joyce Elliott in the congressional race.
James told me he'd concocted the FOI request on its own and only copied it to Webb as an FYI. He said he was glad I'd found out about his request from the clerk's office, considering that he hadn't been favored with a response. He said FOI requests were "part of the job" and that, heretofore, the clerk's office had been timely and responsive.
At any rate, the reader-service element of this column compels me to advise you as follows: If you are applying for an absentee ballot and intend to cast that absentee ballot, please make darned sure your signatures match each other and others of your signatures, such as on those big vote-record binders, because, if they don't, Republicans seem to be angling to challenge your vote if they don't like an outcome and you look like you might be, you know, a Democrat.
I intend to vote in person because my signature becomes more wildly illegible daily. I cannot be sure the next one will look like the last one. I cannot read notes I just took. If I weren't typing this, I wouldn't know what I'd just said.
Hollingsworth says the office has received about 12,000 absentee-ballot applications--at a time it had received about 1,500 four years ago--and is getting 400 to 500 absentee-request pieces of mail per day toward an expected sum in excess of 20,000.
She says the office is doing what it usually does on verifying the information on the request, including the consideration of the signatures.
She says the office will send James--and the blind-copied Webb--what little it has on communications about protocols. Mainly, she says they're just doing their job the way they've always done their job.
I told Hollingsworth I have been chastised by readers for their inference--not my implication--that I'd said there was a drop-box for absentee applications outside on Spring Street beside the county courthouse downtown. What I wrote was what Hollingsworth had previously said, which was that the side door was open for masked and socially distanced entry.
But there is hopeful news on that front. The clerk's office is working on curbside drive-through dropoff of absentee ballots beside the courthouse.
The reason for this plan is that many voters are understandably concerned about mail service. They're also concerned that, if they get an absentee ballot and then change their minds and choose to vote in person, their in-person ballot will be considered "provisional" and not counted until after the election.
By the system the clerk is working on, persons could mark their absentee ballots, seal them, drive them down to the curbside service, present identification and sign a form, then watch as their ballot gets put in a lockbox, and then drive away comforted that they'd get their vote counted.
I so liked the idea that I asked how many such curbside locations were being considered.
Oh, just one, Hollingsworth said, because Republicans object to the convenience of more than one, and the clerk's office would rather not invite any unnecessary trouble.
I remarked that the clerk's office, should it indeed set up the courthouse street-side service, might unveil it publicly with a demonstration to which GOP chairman Webb would be invited to examine for security.
Hollingsworth said that was an idea.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.