BENTONVILLE -- Absentee ballots are flowing like traffic on a busy, two-way street between voters and county clerks' offices in Benton and Washington counties.
Benton County processed and mailed 14,372 absentee ballot applications and received 7,959 ballots back as of Friday morning, said Dana Caler, County Clerk's Office election administrator. The county has 169,257 registered voters. The voter registration deadline was Oct. 5.
The number of absentee ballots cast in Benton County was 2,845 in the 2016 presidential election, according to the county clerk's office.
"We're happy to see so many ballots back already. It will be a great help to the Election Commission when they begin the canvassing process next week," Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell said. "The more they can get processed throughout the two-week period, the greater the number that they will be able start counting on election day.
"We've had very few issues considering the number of ballots that have been processed and mailed," Harrell said.
Harrell urged voters to get their applications in as soon as possible if they are planning to vote absentee. The final day to request an absentee ballot be mailed is Oct. 27.
Voters can see if their ballot has been accepted using the VoterView feature on the Arkansas Secretary of State website.
In Washington County, about 11,000 absentee ballot applications have been processed and mailed, and 5,400 ballots returned as of Friday morning, said Deputy Clerk Jamie Williams. Washington County has 140,085 registered voters.
More voting by absentee ballot is expected in this November general election than in previous elections because of covid-19. Guidelines to prevent the disease's spread include avoiding public gatherings such as a vote center.
Officials in the two counties are holding Saturday ballot drop-off events for absentee voters.
Benton County voters dropped off 172 absentee ballots Oct. 3 and 307 on Oct. 10, Caler said.
Washington County collected 524 absentee ballots Oct. 3 and 684 on Oct. 10, Williams said.
"I think the process has been great. It is very fast and convenient for the voters," said Jennifer Price, executive director of the Washington County Election Commission.
Harrell said voters need to bring an ID to show staff members when they return their ballots.
An Arkansas voter may request an absentee ballot application by contacting the county clerk in the county where registered, according to the Secretary of State website. Voters may download the application from their county websites.
The application can be submitted by fax, email, in person or mail, Price said.
Voters can return an absentee ballot in person to the county clerk's office. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in both counties. Voters must show identification. The deadline to return an absentee ballot in person is Nov. 2, Price said.
All absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 to be counted, Secretary of State John Thurston said.
Early voting starts Monday and has been a popular option for voters in the two-county area.
Election workers in both counties have undergone training on new safety protocols related to covid-19.
"If you're going to vote in person, vote early," Harrell said. "Now, more than ever, you just don't know what your circumstances will be in two weeks. Travel light when you go to the vote center. The new safety precautions in place are going to mean that voters are a little more hands on in the process, so just carry your ID in with you."
Absentee ballots may be dropped off today, Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 at the following times and locations. Voters must bring a photo ID.
• Benton County: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave. in Bentonville, and county clerk’s offices at 2111 W. Walnut St. in Rogers and 707 Lincoln St., Siloam Springs.
• Washington County: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the County Courthouse, 212 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville.
Source: Benton, Washington counties
Mike Jones can be reached by email at [email protected]