With the coronavirus continuing to spread in Arkansas, the number of people wanting to vote by absentee ballot has risen sharply compared to the last presidential election year.
In Pulaski County, 10,039 registered voters had requested an absentee ballot as of Thursday, according to the office of Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth. At this point in 2016, there were 1,545 requests, an increase of 550%.
The deadline for Arkansas voters to request an absentee ballot by mail is October 27, one week before Election Day on Nov. 3. But with expected strains on the U.S. Postal Service, Hollingsworth is encouraging voters to act as soon as possible.
Voters should be proactive, Hollingsworth says, by making sure that they are registered and meet all deadlines. For anyone not registered to vote, the deadline for the General Election is October 5.
Absentee ballots will be sent out by mail starting September 17 and early voting begins on October 19. For voters concerned about slowdowns in the mail, there is another option.
“The voter has the right to bring their absentee ballot back to the courthouse if they like,” Hollingsworth said. “Should they choose to mail it, it will need at least three first class stamps on it.”
Absentee voting can be done by a voter completing a ballot application, which can be obtained on the county's website. It can also be requested over the phone, via email or picked up in person.
Hollingsworth says concern about COVID-19 is a legitimate reason to request an absentee ballot, thanks to an executive order from the governor. She also dismisses President Trump’s claim that there is the potential for widespread fraud.
“He’s certainly undermining all the good work and efforts that our election commission and staff do. I don't think there is any merit to anything he is talking about, in terms of fraud and that kind of thing.” Hollingsworth said.
For those who choose to vote in-person on Election Day or during early voting, Hollingsworth says there will be adequate social distancing and staff at polling locations will be wearing personal protective equipment.