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Arkansas: How to Ensure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

Important deadlines for registering, voting early, and casting an absentee ballot are coming up.

Grace Han/Thrillist

The 2020 General Election on November 3 may still feel like a ways off, but if you vote in Arkansas, the important deadlines for registering to vote, voting early, and sending an absentee ballot in the mail are coming up soon. No, you shouldn't start to panic, but you should make a plan for voting -- and voting safely -- now that the COVID-19 pandemic could mean that casting your ballot may look a bit different this year. You should do everything you can now to make sure your vote counts come Election Day.

Arkansas affords voters a few options for voting. You can absolutely wait in line and vote in person at your local polling place on Election Day like you usually do. Or you can cast your ballot early in hopes of avoiding the crowds. Or if you're concerned about potential coronavirus transmission at the polls, the state will also allow you to vote from the safety of your home by sending in an absentee ballot by mail. Here's everything you need to know. 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Arkansas?

Arkansas requires that you submit your voter registration form either in person or by mail no later than 30 days before the election, which makes the voter registration deadline for the November 3, 2020 election October 5, 2020. That's an aggressive deadline, so if you haven't already registered to vote, you should submit your application as soon as possible. If you can't do it now, set reminders for yourself, ask your significant other to nag you about it -- whatever it takes.

Election officials will consider the postmark on your voter registration application as the date of submission, so while you can technically procrastinate, you shouldn't. In fact, the state warns that if you mail an application close to the deadline that you should also follow up with your county clerk to check on your registration status before Election Day. If the deadline is coming up, it's recommended that you apply in person with your county clerk to ensure you're eligible to vote, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State's voter registration information page. There's no day-of voter registration. 

If you've moved to another county within Arkansas since the last time you registered to vote, the deadline to update your information is four days before the election. 

Not sure if you're registered? Arkansas' voter information tool lets you check your status.

How to register to vote in Arkansas

There are five requirements you must meet in order to be eligible to vote in Arkansas: you must be a United States citizen, you must be an Arkansas resident, you must be 18 or turn 18 on or before the election, for the most part you can't be a convicted felon, and you can't be deemed "mentally incompetent" regarding your ability to vote by a court. 

The only way to register to vote in Arkansas is by filling out a paper voter registration application, according to the Secretary of State. You can submit the completed form in person at your county clerk or mail it. Unfortunately, the state doesn't offer a 100% online application even though we're in the midst of a deadly public health crisis. 

You can get your hands on an application a number of ways, including visiting your county clerk, asking the state to send it to you in the mail, or just downloading and printing one online, among other options. If you mail in your completed application, be sure to do so before the postmark deadline.

As for identification requirements, Arkansas asks for the following on voter registration applications submitted via mail: "You must provide either your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number on your Arkansas Voter Registration Application, or check the box in #9 on the application to indicate that you do not possess either a driver’s license or Social Security number."

When your local county clerk is done processing your application, they will send you a voter registration card that you'll use to verify your registration status at your polling place. Election officials note that receiving your card could take "up to several weeks," so again, this is about completing your registration as soon as possible. Hurry up and get it done.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Arkansas?

Yes, you can vote early in Arkansas. In general elections, the state allows voters to cast their ballots 15 days ahead of Election Day, meaning early voting will begin on October 19, 2020. Early voting will end on November 2, 2020. Early voting hours may vary from place to place, so be sure to contact your local election officials ahead of showing up if you're unsure about when your polling place is open. 

Can I vote by mail?

If you're unable to visit your polling location in person on Election Day, you can request an absentee ballot that you can complete at home and send back in the mail. While Arkansas requires voters to cite an excuse for being unable to vote in person at a polling location, state election officials approved a resolution allowing voters to request and submit an absentee ballot if they're concerned about contracting or spreading COVID-19. So, if you're afraid of getting sick, you can choose this option.

Just know that the state isn't going to assume you'd like an absentee ballot and automatically send you one. First, you have to apply for an absentee ballot by filling out an application form and submitting it your county clerk. Basically, the absentee voting process will take some time, so it would behoove you to get started right away to ensure you have enough time to receive your absentee ballot, fill it out, and have it get back before the deadline. 

How to request an absentee ballot in Arkansas

There are two ways to request an absentee ballot in Arkansas: 1) contact the county clerk where you're registered to vote and ask them to provide you with an application and return it to them or 2) download the application online and submit it to your county clerk. The deadline for submitting your completed application will depend on how you're sending it back to the clerk.

Here's the full breakdown of deadlines, per the Arkansas Secretary of State's website:

  • In person: by close of business the day before the election
  • By designated bearer or administrator: by close of business the day before the election (Note: a designated bearer is anyone you choose to pick up or deliver your application or ballot)
  • By mail or by electronic means: by seven days before the election
  • By authorized agent: by 1:30pm on Election Day

Regardless of how you're submitting your application, you shouldn't cut it close to the deadline. You want to give yourself as much time as possible to actually obtain your ballot after your application is approved, fill it out, and get it back to the county clerk's office by the voted ballot deadline, which we'll get to here in a minute.

Finally, you should try your best to make sure the signature on your absentee ballot application matches the signature the county clerk has on file with your voter registration. Once the clerk verifies that you're registered to vote and that your signature matches in both places, they will issue your absentee ballot.

How to vote absentee in Arkansas

On your absentee ballot application, you get to select how you wish to receive your absentee ballot: by picking it up in person, receiving it by mail, or allowing a bearer to pick it up (an administrator, authorized agent or designated bearer), according to the Secretary of State's Voting 101 guide. If you want to pick up your ballot, there's no deadline for doing so -- you just need to give yourself enough time to complete it and return it to the county clerk. Bearers, however, must pick up absentee ballots no earlier than 15 days before this election. 

When you receive your absentee ballot, carefully follow the instructions to complete it and return it. You don't want it thrown out for some sort of technicality because you forgot to follow a certain step. You also don't want it to arrive back at the clerk's office too late to be counted. Be mindful of the deadline, especially if you're sending your completed absentee ballot by mail.

Here's the full breakdown of voted ballot deadlines, per the Arkansas Secretary of State's website:

  • In person: by close of business the day before the election
  • By designated bearer: by 7:30pm on Election Day
  • By mail: received at clerk's office by 7:30pm on Election Day (Note: You may NOT fax or email a ballot. UOCAVA voters must vote their ballot by Election Day, and it must be received by their county clerk by 5pm 10 days after the election)
  • By authorized agent: by 7:30pm on Election Day

How can I make sure my absentee ballot is counted?

The most important things you can do here are carefully follow all of the instructions, meet the deadlines for each step of the absentee voting process, and make sure your signature matches what's on file in your voter registration. Also, try not to rip or otherwise damage any of your absentee voting materials and envelopes.

Finally, if you have concerns or questions about your absentee ballot, contact your local county clerk.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Step 1: Use the Arkansas VoterView tool to find your polling location and its hours.

While voting early or absentee are likely the safest ways to vote in Arkansas this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued several safety tips to help voters protect themselves and others. 

Here's what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

In other words, be smart. Do everything you've been doing throughout the pandemic to keep yourself safe.

Additional Arkansas voting resources

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Tony Merevick is Senior News Editor at Thrillist. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.