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Courtesy of Waymark.

Arkansans have a variety of flexible options for casting their votes for the Nov. 3 general election during the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials say citizens should act soon in order to ensure their votes are counted.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in July that absentee ballots would be available to voters who had concerns about voting in-person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under existing Arkansas law, voters may also request an absentee ballot if they will be unavoidably absent from the polls on election day, their ability to vote in person is hindered by illness or they are temporarily living outside of U.S. territory.

To submit an application for an absentee ballot or to vote in-person, voters must first be registered. Citizens must print an online registration form or pick one up at their local county clerk’s office. This form, which includes instructions, must be returned in person or mailed by Oct. 5 in order to be processed.

For those wishing to vote in person, the polls will open Oct. 19 for the early voting period, which is open to all voters and ends Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. Voters can find their polling locations on the Arkansas secretary of state website. Early voting polls will be open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On election day, the polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Registered voters wishing to vote remotely must request an absentee ballot application from their county clerk’s office. Under Arkansas law, voters can submit an application until Oct. 27, one week before election day.

Officials from the United States Postal Service sent a letter to the Arkansas secretary of state on July 29 warning that the published deadlines for receiving and returning a by-mail absentee ballot for the election may not permit enough time for all votes to be counted.

Amid rising concerns about the increase in mail-in absentee ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas J. Marshall, executive vice president of USPS, pointed out that certain parts of Arkansas’ election policy would not line up with the capacity of the postal service.

In the letter, Marshall said that by allowing voters to submit applications up until Oct. 27, the state is creating a situation in which not all approved ballots may be sent out or returned in time for the election. He advised that people who want to vote by mail should submit their application by Oct. 19, which is 15 days prior to the election.

Mailing applications earlier will allow enough time for all components of the voting process to be sent and returned, Marshall said. Following approval, voters can pick up their ballots from their county clerk’s office or have them mailed to them.

Andrew Elkins is the associate news editor of the Arkansas Traveler. He worked as a reporter and photographer from 2018-2019.

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