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story.lead_photo.caption Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

Arkansans can vote via absentee ballot if they are concerned about contracting covid-19, state officials including Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Secretary of State John Thurston have said.

The state’s deadline is Oct. 27 for county clerks to receive mailed-in absentee ballot requests, so the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — with information and interviews with the League of Women Voters and the Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk’s office — has compiled advice for successfully voting absentee in Arkansas in the Nov. 3rd General Election.

• Don’t wait to request an absentee ballot.

Waiting until the Oct. 27 mail-in deadline allows only one week for county clerks to review the request form, provide an absentee ballot and for the voter to fill out and mail back the ballot package — all by Nov. 3.

• For all questions related to voting, the best contact is the county clerk’s office in the county where a voter is registered or resides.

The Secretary of State’s office provides a current list of county clerks.

• Get the “Arkansas Application for Absentee Ballot.” Download and print one for each absentee voter.

The forms are available on county clerk and Secretary of State websites. The applications also can be obtained by phone call, fax or email to the county clerk’s office.

• Fill out the request form properly.

County clerk offices review the forms for accuracy and completeness.

Susan Inman, a League of Women Voters election specialist and former state elections director, stresses the importance of getting the voter’s signature and date of birth on the application, as well as the voter’s address and where to receive the ballot.

The Secretary of State’s directions for filling out the application include dating it at the top and addressing it to the voter’s county clerk. Other sections to fill out include:

Reason for request — Most voters will check the first box, saying they will be “unavoidably absent from my polling site on Election Day.” Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an Aug. 7 executive order that permits Arkansas voters with covid-19 fears to check that box.

Residence — Most voters will check the first box saying they reside within the county where they are registered to vote.

Request for appropriate absentee ballots — To vote in the Nov. 3 election, check the third box “General Election/Nonpartisan Runoff & General Election Runoff.” Ignore the others, including party affiliation.

How to receive the ballot — Most voters will check the third box, “Mail.”

Be sure to list the correct voter name and mailing address. It’s also possible to pick up the ballot at the county clerk’s office.

Another option is to send a “designated bearer,” which is another person who will pick up the form for the voter at the county clerk office starting Oct. 19 and return it. If the absentee voter checks the designated bearer box, the application must have the bearer’s printed name by the box checked, and the designated bearer's signature at the bottom right of the form. A designated bearer must have a photo ID and can pick up and return ballots for no more than two voters.

There are also provisions for nursing home administrators and other authorized agents to deliver ballots to county clerk offices, usually in case of medical emergencies.

The request form at bottom also requires: printed or typed name of the voter, voter’s signature, voter’s address and date of birth.

Local election experts advise voters to photograph their absentee ballot application before sending, for reference when it’s time to fill out absentee ballots.

Mail the absentee ballot request form to the county clerk where the voter is registered, or send it by fax or email. The deadline for the county clerk to receive it is Oct. 27. A Pulaski County clerk spokesman adds there's no prohibition against county clerks mailing ballots after that date, but those voters must return the ballot personally to the clerk's office.

• Voters can track their absentee ballot requests on the Secretary of State’s VoterView website.

Enter the voter’s name and birthdate. The website will show the address and voting precinct. Under “Election Details” for “Absentee Ballot,” it also will show whether an absentee ballot has been sent to the voter, whether the voter has returned the ballot to the county clerk and the ballot status.

• Fill out the absentee ballot, which is part of a package that also includes a voter statement, two envelopes and a requirement for voters to provide a photo ID copy.

Mark the ballot to “bubble in” the voter’s chosen candidates and ballot question decisions. Black ink is recommended. When finished, place the completed ballot in the smaller “secrecy” or “ballot only” or “inner” envelope, as it’s called in statutes and election materials. Seal that envelope.

Place it in the larger “return” or “outer” envelope, which will hold all documents the voter must return.

• Fill out the voter statement.

The voter statement may be on colorful paper — that depends on what individual county clerks choose. Instructions are on the back. Voters must fill out all required sections, which include printed name, address on file for the voter's registration and date of birth. The voter’s signature as it appears on the absentee ballot application form is also required. The two signatures will be compared. There also are spots for optional information, to be filled out if the voter isn’t returning the ballot by mail or doesn’t provide a photo ID.

If possible, voters should make a copy of a photo ID and send it with the ballot package. Copies of driver’s license, photo identification card, military identification document, concealed handgun carry license, and U.S. passports are among acceptable documents. For questions, call the voter’s county clerk office.

The ballot sealed inside its smaller inner envelope, the voter statement and the photo ID all go into the larger outer envelope that carries the whole package to the county clerk’s office. In Pulaski County, it takes three stamps to mail the ballot materials back to the county clerk’s office.

• Properly return the ballot.

There are three ways to return the ballot package. If returned by mail, it must be in the clerk’s office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

The voter can return it in person, and by showing a photo ID, to the county courthouse -- but the deadline is earlier than mailing it in -- 5 p.m. Nov. 2.

The ballot also can also be returned by a designated bearer, administrator or other authorized agent, with the deadline 7:30 p.m. Election Day.

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