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story.lead_photo.caption Dana Caler processes absentee ballot requests on Tuesday Aug. 18 at the Benton County clerk's office in downtown Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

BENTONVILLE -- More than 14,000 absentee ballot applications have been processed in Benton and Washington counties with few problems, according to the county clerks' offices.

The Benton County Clerk's Office processed 8,000 applications by Friday morning, said Dana Caler, county clerk elections administrator/voter supervisor. Benton County has 164,448 registered voters as of Friday.

Caler said Friday the clerk's office has rejected 40 to 50 applications because people weren't registered to vote, which she said is the most common reason for rejection. County officials are trying to make contact with those residents, she said. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5, she said.

The Washington County Clerk's Office isn't really rejecting any applications. Instead, those applications are listed as pending, said Jamie Williams, deputy clerk.

"The largest number are people that are not registered to vote, but we have sent them voter registration applications," she said. "We have gotten several of them back and have been able to register them and go ahead and process their application for an absentee ballot. We still have 43 pending, and, of those, 29 are not currently registered to vote."

In Washington County, 6,180 absentee ballot applications were processed as of Friday morning, Williams, said. There were 136,886 registered voters Friday in Washington County, Williams said.

More voting by absentee ballot is expected in the November general election than in previous general elections because of covid-19. Guidelines to prevent the disease's spread include avoiding public gatherings like a vote center.

Absentee ballots will hit the mail Sept. 18, Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell said.

"It will take a couple of days to get all 8,000 mailed out, but local residents should receive their ballots within the week if they submitted an application prior to the 18th," Harrell said.

Some states send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in a county or state. Arkansas uses an absentee ballot system.

A voter may request an absentee ballot application by contacting the county clerk in the county where he's registered to vote, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State website.

Voters may download the application from the county or Secretary of State websites.

The application can be submitted by fax, email, in person or mail, Jennifer Price, executive director of the Washington County Election Commission, said.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail or fax is Oct. 27, although a voter can pick up an absentee ballot in person until Nov. 2, the day before the election.

All absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 to be counted, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston said.

Thurston said June 25 state law provides sufficient latitude for voters concerned about the coronavirus to request an absentee ballot for the November general election. The law allows a voter to request a ballot if he will be "unavoidably absent from his or her voting place on the day of the election."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order earlier this month allowing election officials to begin preparing absentee ballots for counting up to 15 days before the general election. The rule for preparing absentee ballots was seven days before the election prior to Hutchinson's order, said Kim Dennison, Benton County election coordinator.

The election includes federal, state, county and municipal races and ballot questions. Some ballots will contain school board, community college and judicial runoff races as well as local ballot questions.

photo
Dana Caler with the Benton County clerk's office shows absentee ballot requests on Tuesday Aug. 18 that have been processed at the office in downtown Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
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Voting information

County Clerk’s Offices

Benton County: (479) 271-1013

Washington County: (479) 444-1711

Secretary of State

• Voting information can also be found at www.sos.arkansas.gov

Source: Benton County, Washington County

Mike Jones can be reached by email at [email protected]

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