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story.lead_photo.caption Jacob McCray loads a pallet of personal protective equipment last week at the secretary of state warehouse in Little Rock. The equipment, which will be used in the Nov. 3 election, was headed for Yell and Logan counties. More photos at arkansasonline. com/824election/.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe) ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

Despite the spread of covid-19, Arkansas will be ready on Election Day, Secretary of State John Thurston said.

In order to protect voters during the pandemic, the secretary of state's office is distributing as much as $1 million in personal protective equipment to county clerks across the state.

Last week, several truckloads of equipment were dispatched. More are scheduled to ship out this week.

"The counties are working really hard to put things in place to make sure the polling sites are safe. They're going to have the equipment to do so," Thurston, a Republican, said in an interview last week.

Paper poll books have finally been phased out, replaced by electronic equipment, officials said.

Instead of using ink pens, voters will now use disposable computer styluses.

"They've been ordered, they're coming from China, they're being delivered. We hope to have them soon," Thurston said.

Gallery: PPE Election Preparation

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/824election/]

Each one is supposed to be emblazoned with the words, "I voted."

They cost the state roughly 10 cents each, Thurston said.

"When you come into the polling site, you can sign your name on the signature pad with that [stylus], you can vote with that [stylus], and throw it away if you like," Thurston said.

Or the voter can keep it as a souvenir.

The goal is to make voting feel safe and be safe.

"If an individual comes and has their mask on, they won't have to touch a single thing. And, of course, there'll be social distancing at polling sites as well," Thurston said.

Arkansans with fears related to covid-19 can request an absentee ballot, Thurston noted. Or they can fill out a ballot during early voting.

Voting on Nov. 3 is a third option.

"Make sure you vote," Thurston said.

"Me, personally, I'm going to show up to the poll," he said. "I don't want to trust the Postal Service or someone checking the mail with my vote."

"If my health was compromised and I felt like covid could possibly really put me in danger of my life, I would vote by mail," he said. "I don't want to take any chances with my vote. However, I don't want to take any chances with my health either."

In 2016, roughly 42,000 Arkansans cast absentee ballots, Thurston said.

That figure is likely to skyrocket this time, he said.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Leslie Bellamy (from left) stacks boxes of personal protective equipment for Waylan Arnold and Ralph Burns to load into a van last week at the warehouse in Little Rock. The shipment was headed for Desha County.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

"I wouldn't be surprised if we had over one hundred [thousand] for sure, possibly 150,000 absentee ballots," he said.

It takes longer to tabulate absentee ballots than those cast electronically, so it may take a while to determine the winners in close contests, he said.

"Don't be upset if we don't know the results by the time [people] go to bed," he said. "It'll be a long night, no doubt, but it will be that way across the nation."

President Donald Trump claimed the 2016 election was rigged, weeks before winning it. He's making similar statements this time.

Thurston hasn't issued similar warnings, however.

"In Arkansas, no, I'm not concerned about an election being rigged at all," he said.

All 75 counties now use the same integrated system for voter tracking, Director of Elections Leslie Bellamy said.

If a person votes in one county and then tries to vote again in another county, the system will immediately know it, she said.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Covid-19 has complicated the 2020 election.

"One thing that counties are needing right now is poll workers," Thurston said. "Typically the ones who are retired are the ones who work the polls. And those are the ones that covid hits pretty hard, so they are seeing a decline in poll workers."

People who are interested in being poll workers should contact their county clerk's office, Bellamy said.

[RELATED » Full coverage of elections in Arkansas » arkansasonline.com/elections/]

Elections officials are working with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security representative to protect against outside attacks, Bellamy said.

Election officials also consult with the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management, she said.

"It's been a nice collaborative effort to keep the state safe," she said.

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