By John C. Davis
COVID-19 has altered the way we conduct many aspects of our lives. For many, voting will be different this year and will require a bit more planning. For those interested in voting absentee, whether due to the pandemic or another qualified reason, now is the time to request your ballot.
You might recall that in March, Governor Hutchinson issued an Executive Order which, among other things, temporarily waived the state requirement that a voter provide a qualified excuse to request an absentee ballot. The logic, at the time, was that it was not clear whether fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19 would be a permissible excuse in order to vote absentee and the temporary waiver would permit anyone to vote absentee in the spring’s primary runoff elections. The Executive Order has since expired, but many, including myself, advocated for the need to waive the excuse requirement for the 2020 General Election. After a couple months of uncertainty regarding the issue, we now know COVID-19 is a valid reason to request and obtain an absentee ballot. About a month ago, Secretary of State John Thurston issued a statement citing his position that COVID-19 was a qualified excuse. Shortly after, Governor Hutchinson, announced his support for the interpretation alongside Doyle Webb, Chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party and Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. Whether voters prefer to vote absentee or in person in the upcoming election is their choice, as it should be. However, the Secretary of State and Governor’s interpretation grant Arkansans the choice to vote absentee, and that is to be commended.
Your County Clerk will now accept your request for an absentee ballot. If you plan to vote absentee in the 2020 General Election, I recommend you call your County Clerk today to begin the process of requesting your ballot. By acting now, you will be helping the Clerk appraise the level of demand for absentee ballots, make necessary adjustments and allocate resources. By all indications, we should expect a significant increase in absentee ballot voting in Arkansas and across the US as voters seek ways to carry out their civic responsibility in the safest way possible. Once requested, the Clerk will send you a form to complete and return. You will then receive your ballot closer to election time. Voting absentee is a different process from voting in person but it is a secure and proven voting method. However, you must be proactive and carefully follow the instructions.
To avoid mail delays, be sure to mail or drop off your completed absentee ballot as soon as possible. Don’t wait until November. I’ve read that the best deadline to give yourself is two weeks prior to Election Day (say, October 20) in order to not bog down the USPS and result in your ballot arriving at the Clerk’s office after Election Day. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your County Clerk’s office, who I am sure will be happy to walk you through the process.
Whether you intend to vote absentee, early, or in-person on Election Day, be safe, take care of others, and let your voice be heard!