An executive order was issued Friday (Aug. 7) by Gov. Asa Hutchinson clarifying that Arkansans can vote by absentee mail-in ballot if they have COVID-19 concerns. The order also gives county clerks more time to process mail-ballots.
On June 26, and in response to a lawsuit filed against his office, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston said Arkansas voters can request an absentee ballot to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Three plaintiffs filed suit In Pulaski County Circuit Court June 23 against Thurston. They asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment finding that Arkansas law allows voters to offer any reason or no reason to vote absentee, or to declare that fear of contracting COVID-19 is a valid excuse. The plaintiffs are Janet Baker, Susan Inman and Olly Neal.
The governor’s executive order (Executive Order 20-44) allows elections officials to process absentee ballots a week earlier than usual “to allow for an anticipated increase in the number of absentee voters. He issued the executive order in response to an official request from the Arkansas Association of County Clerks,” noted a statement from the governor’s office.
“This order affirms Secretary of State John Thurston’s position that the fear of exposure to COVID-19 or of exposing others at the polls is reason enough for a voter to cast an absentee ballot,” Gov. Hutchinson said in the statement. “If a significant number of voters chooses that option, elections officials could be overwhelmed. We’ve already seen a significant increase in the number of applications for absentee ballots. This executive order builds in extra time for them to process and authenticate absentee ballots to ensure an accurate count and a fair election.”
According to the governor’s office, the additional time to process ballots will fall within the 15-day early voting period.
“During that time, elections officials will be allowed to process only the registration information from the outer envelopes of an absentee ballot. By Arkansas law, they will not be permitted to open the ballots and count absentee votes until 8:30 a.m. election day. The deadlines for applying for an absentee ballot and submitting a completed ballot remain the same,” the statement noted.
Link here to the Secretary of State’s website for information on how to vote using an absentee ballot.