COVID-19 concerns have many of us turning to absentee voting for the first time. And while it's a bit more complicated than standing in line at your local polling station, it definitely shouldn't stop you from exercising your right to vote.
We caught up with Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth to answer all our questions about absentee voting.
Who is eligible for absentee voting?
TH: Any registered voter can elect to vote by absentee. They must first request a ballot by completing the absentee application form which can be downloaded from our website. The document is fillable, and once completed, the voter will need to sign it and send it to my office.
If you're confused about how to fill out the request, her office mapped it out here.
How and when should I request a ballot?
TH: Pulaski County registered voters who choose to vote by absentee should apply now. The deadline to request an absentee ballot to be mailed is Oct. 27.
They can submit one of four ways:
1) by emailing the application to firstname.lastname@example.org;
2) by faxing the application to 501.421.9255;
3) by mailing it to 401 W. Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72201 or Post Office Box 2659, Little Rock, AR 72203, which is checked by deputy clerks daily, and finally...
4) by hand delivering the application in person to the courthouse Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Although the courthouse is closed to the public, our office has a makeshift area where we assist citizens. Enter through the entrance on Spring Street.
Once I apply for an absentee ballot, can I change my mind and vote in person instead?
TH: I have a “yes-but” answer to this very important question. Yes, voters can change their mind, but their in-person ballot will be cast as provisional. So I highly encourage voters to pick a plan on how to vote and stick with it. If you applied for an absentee ballot, then vote absentee.
Should I be concerned about my ballot arriving in time?
TH: I can’t speak for the U.S. Postal Service, but the longer a voter waits to send their ballot back, the higher the chances that our office will not receive it by the legal deadline of 7:30 p.m. on Election Day (Nov. 3). Also keep in mind that three first-class stamps are needed to return a ballot by mail in Pulaski County.
What if I miss the deadline to vote by absentee through USPS?
TH: The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot to be mailed is Oct. 27. After that date, if a voter still would like to absentee vote, they can drop off their completed application in person at the courthouse and pick up their ballot, too. The last day a voter can request a ballot, complete and return it is Monday, Nov. 2.
What are the risks of voting by mail?
TH: The risk of voting by absentee is not getting their ballot counted. This may happen for a variety of reasons. It is critically important that voters read and follow the instructions that are included in the ballot packet. Seek assistance from a friend or relative, and if needed call our voter registration department at 501.340.8336. We are here to help.
How does the drop-off method work? When and where can I do so, and what do I need to bring with me?
TH: Voters or their designated bearer can return their completed and sealed ballot in person at the courthouse. They can enter through the Spring Street entrance and one of our deputy clerks can assist them. They will need to provide identification when returning their ballot. Just a kind reminder, designated bearers can only pick up and return a maximum of two ballots starting Oct. 19.
We are also in the final stages of offering a drive-thru option to allow voters a safe and convenient way to return their ballot without leaving their car.
What is the most common misconception you hear about absentee voting?
TH: A lack of education and awareness are the main driving forces for the misconception on absentee voting. For many voters, it is a concept they are unfamiliar with, however absentee voting has been around since the Civil War as a way for soldiers to cast a ballot in their home states. Many of our armed servicemen and women rely on absentee voting, and we are required by state and federal law to send absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for federal elections. It is also used by many college students.
What is the main thing you want the public to know for this election?
TH: I would love for voters to know that they have three ways to vote this election season: absentee voting, early voting and Election Day voting. Make a plan to vote and stick to the plan. If you are a voter with a compromised immune system and have a general fear of COVID-19, I encourage you to vote absentee. If you are a voter like me who goes to work every day and to the grocery store and such, then I encourage you to early vote or vote on Election Day on Nov. 3.
What do voters need to know about in-person voting in 2020?
TH: Early voting begins Oct. 19. There are currently 12 early voting sites where voters can cast their ballots Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. There is no Sunday voting. The last day to early vote is Monday, Nov. 2, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
For voters who elect to vote on Election Day, polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Starting this election, those 12 early voting sites will become vote centers which allow voters to cast their vote at any of the sites, or they can go to their designated polling site.
Finally, the Pulaski County Election Commission has worked very hard to ensure that our citizens can safely vote in person. Special measures will be in place including separate entrances and exits, all poll workers will be wearing masks, social distancing guidelines will be clearly marked and a disposable stylus will be provided to each voter, just to name a few. Although free masks will be available for voters, wearing a mask is not a requirement to vote. Voters can visit votepulaski.net for more details on how to create their COVID-19 plan.
Hollingsworth just announced new details on three options for returning absentee ballots:
Option 1: Walk-up
Oct. 5 - Nov. 2, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday-Friday
Voters can return their ballot in person at the two tents set up on the Second Street (south) side of the courthouse between Spring and Broadway streets. Voters who utilize this option will be greeted by deputy clerks who will check their identification, have the voter sign a log and then deposit the sealed ballot into a locked container.
Option 2: Drive-thru
Oct. 19-30, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., Monday-Friday // Nov. 2, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
The block of Second Street between Spring and Broadway will be closed to through traffic during the times listed. Voters who utilize this option will be greeted by deputy clerks at their vehicles who will then check their identification, have the voter sign a log and then deposit the sealed ballot into a locked container.
Voters utilizing the drive-thru option will access the entry point on Second Street beginning at Center Street. Suggested routes to the ballot return entry point:
- From I-30: Take exit 141A and continue west on Second Street
- From I-630: Take exit 1A toward Center Street/Main Street, continue north on Center Street or north on Main Street, then turn and continue west on Second Street
Reminder for walk-up or drive-thru: The voter who requested the ballot will have to return their own ballot unless selected as a designated bearer, administrator or authorized agent as defined by Arkansas law.
Option 3: Mail-in
Nov. 3 by 7:30 p.m.
Voters can return their completed absentee ballot by mail and it must be received by the county clerk by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
Bonus: A special hotline is now available specifically for absentee ballot questions. Don't chance it. If you're unsure, call 501.340.6978.