VOTE

Gov. Asa Hutchinson invited the chairs of the Arkansas Republican and Democratic parties, along with Secretary of State John Thurston, to discuss absentee ballots for the election in November.

"State law, as many know, provides that absentee voting is for voters that can request an absentee ballot if they will be unavoidably absent from the polls on election day or be unable to attend a polling site on election day due to illness or physical disability," Hutchinson said. "Secretary of State John Thurston has interpreted this to apply to health concerns related to COVID-19."

He explained those concerned about COVID-19 on election day can request an absentee ballot and be qualified under the law to get it.

"I am in full agreement with the secretary of state's interpretation of this and I fully support that," Hutchinson said.

He said the parties may not agree on many issues but they do agree on easier access to the polls and a safe environment.

"This is an issue we all feel is very important," Democratic Chair Michael John Gray said.

He said there will be challenges moving forward and there is a need to educate voters about how to obtain a ballot and use it to vote.

"We are very excited," Republican Chair Doyle Webb said.

He said they all want to encourage and support voters. He said his party will use its best efforts to spread the word. He expects a good turnout of voters this year.

"Elections are the bedrock of our republic," Thurston said.

He said he expects the election to look like past elections but with masks and hand sanitizer. His office is working to ensure all counties have the supplies they need. His office is purchasing disposable stylus pens where voters can sign their name on the pad and vote using the pen and then throw it away so they don't have to touch items used by others.

The deadline to applications must be received by mail or fax by Oct. 27 or in person or by bearer by Nov. 2. Absentee ballots must be returned by 7:30 p.m. on election day.

He reminded people there will also be two weeks of early voting available.

To obtain an absentee ballot, voters must contact their county clerk for an application or visit www.sos.arkansas.gov and click on elections.

In Saline County, the county clerk can be reached at 501-303-5630.

In order to vote in the election, voters must be registered no later than Oct. 5.

Thurston said the state is not automatically sending absentee ballots to all voters because it would be expensive to do so. He hopes to use CARES Act funds to cover postage.

He said if someone wants to make copies of the application and share it with others, they can.

Absentee voters must include photocopy of a valid state or United States identification, or sign the verify identification section affirming they are who they claim to be and are registered to vote.

In 2016, Thurston said, 4,200 Arkansans voted absentee. He believes there is no way to know how many will use that option this year.

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