Gov. Asa Hutchinson has issued an executive order that allows Arkansans to vote absentee if they are concerned that voting in person may be a risk to their health or the health of others because of COVID-19. 

Executive Order 20-44 also allows election officials to start processing the 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.

“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. 

“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.”

The additional number of days for processing ballots will coincide with 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 application for absentee ballots and the deadlines are available on the Secretary of State’s website.

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