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How primary elections work in Arkansas

by Ryan Tarinelli | March 24, 2022 at 4:05 p.m. | Updated April 5, 2022 at 1:23 p.m.
"I Voted" stickers sit on a table, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Cambridge City Hall annex, on the first morning of early voting in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Arkansas voters will head to the polls in May to weigh in on candidates for a wide variety of offices in the state’s 2022 primary election, including high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate. Here’s what you need to know about how primaries work.

What is a primary?

Primary elections are how political parties in Arkansas select their nominees for the general election in November.

A candidate must win 50% of the tally plus one vote to win outright a primary race in their party, said Chris Powell, a spokesman for Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston.

If no candidate reaches that threshold, the two candidates with the most number of votes move on to a runoff election, he said. In a runoff, voters choose between the top two candidates to decide who will represent the party in the general election.

Do voters need to register with a party to vote in a primary?

Arkansas has what’s called an open primary, which means voters do not have to register with a party affiliation to vote in a primary election.

However, in primary elections, voters must state which party primary they want to vote in. For example, a Republican can vote in a Democratic primary and vice-versa.

However, if a voter doesn’t want to cast a party ballot, they can still choose to cast ballots in any nonpartisan races, which include judicial and prosecuting attorney races, as well as other local issues such as tax increases.

In a primary, voters are allowed to vote only one party’s ballot or the nonpartisan ballot. A voter cannot vote in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. The election official will record which party’s ballot is selected by a voter. If a runoff election occurs, voters must cast their ballot with the same political party in which they voted in the primary, Powell said.

When will the 2022 primary take place?

Arkansas’ primary election will take place on Tuesday, May 24, and the polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Early voting in the primary will start May 9. Every county seat will have an early voting location open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 9 through May 13, and from May 16 through May 20.

The early voting locations will also be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on two Saturdays – May 14 and May 21.

Early voting will end at 5 p.m. on May 23 – the day before the primary election.

While there will be an early voting polling location in every county seat, county election commissioners are allowed to open additional early voting locations at their discretion, said Daniel Shults, director of the State Board of Election Commissioners.

Voters can also request an absentee ballot. Kevin Niehaus, director of public relations for the Secretary of State’s office, said the deadline to return a completed absentee ballot in person to the county clerk is the Friday before the election, May 20. If a ballot is being returned by mail, it must arrive at the county clerk’s office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

The primary runoff election, if it is needed, is scheduled for June 21.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Arkansas Supreme Court reinstated four voting laws April 1 that, among other things, affected the date by which absentee ballots delivered by hand are due. They are now due the Friday before an election. This story has been updated to reflect this change in state law.

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