LITTLE ROCK – County clerks are preparing for a sharp increase in the number of absentee ballots that they expect to be turned in for the November 3 general election.
The governor issued an executive order in early August that cleared up questions about voting absentee if you have concerns about appearing in person at your polling place, because of the coronavirus.
You may vote absentee whether you are concerned for your own safety, or whether your concern is that your presence at the polling place may affect the health of other people.
Both the secretary of state and the governor agree that fear of exposure to COVID-19, or fear of exposing others, is sufficient reason for requesting an absentee ballot.
Another provision in the executive order is important for county clerks and election officials. It allows them to start processing absentee ballots up to 15 days before election day, in order to get a head start on the anticipated increase.
The extra days for processing will coincide with the early voting period. They can open outer envelopes and begin processing voter registration information, but they will not be allowed to open the inner envelope and count the absentee ballots. They may not open and begin counting absentee ballots until 8:30 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, November 3, which is election day.
Already they have experienced a significant increase in request for absentee ballots. Four years ago, about 40,000 Arkansas residents voted absentee. This year the Secretary of State’s office anticipates more than 125,000 mail-in ballots to be requested and submitted, according to an office spokesman.
Pulaski County has received 10,000 requests for absentee ballots, compared to 1,500 at the same date in 2016, the county clerk told the statewide newspaper.
The deadlines for requesting and returning absentee ballots, as well as other information about voting absentee, can be found on the website of the Secretary of State, under the tab labeled “Elections.” This page has good information for members of the Armed Services stationed abroad. For example, family members stationed overseas follow the same procedures as military personnel when requesting and submitting absentee ballots.
The deadline for registering to vote is October 5. You must be registered in order to request an absentee ballot.
The state is helping counties with personal equipment and other supplies needed to help protect the safety of poll workers on election day.
During the first two months of the state’s fiscal year, net general revenue collections are 8.9 percent above forecast. That amounts to $93.7 million.
Collection of sales taxes were strong, indicating that people are spending and have a certain level of confidence. Sales and use tax revenue is 12.7 percent above forecast.
Individual income taxes are 6.4 percent above forecast, an indicator that people are getting back to work. State income tax rates have gone down because the legislature enacted a tax cut last year, so the increase in income tax collections is a definite signal of increased employment.
The state fiscal year began July 1. The Arkansas legislature has consistently adopted very conservative budgets for state agencies.