Early voting turnout is up slightly from the last midterm election in 2018, according to numbers from state election officials.
Through Thursday, there has been a 6% increase in the number of early votes from the same time in 2018. In total, 363,255 early votes were cast through Thursday compared with 342,570 in 2018.
Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state's office, said the increase in early voting could be a sign of voter enthusiasm or simply a continuation of a trend in early voting. The two-week early voting period began Oct. 24 and ends today. Early voting will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Election day polls will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and close at 7:30 p.m.
Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston's office has projected that 916,674 of the state's 1.79 million registered voters will cast ballots in this year's general election, which is roughly in line with the turnout in 2014 and 2018 midterm elections.
Niehaus said he expects voter turnout to match previous midterm cycles in which the state hovered around a 50% turnout rate among registered voters.
Among the key races on the ballot are the gubernatorial race between former White House press secretary and Republican nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Democrat Chris Jones and Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr.; a U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. John Boozman, Democrat Natalie James and Libertarian Kenneth Cates; and a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana.
"It's just hard to gauge how much extra interest the races [bring]," Niehaus said. "Whether it's the governor's race or the U.S. Senate [race] or these ballot initiatives, it's hard to gauge how much additional interest it's going to create."
Officials from the Republican and Democratic parties of Arkansas said they have noticed a trend in recent election cycles where more people are choosing to vote early. Both parties have put greater emphasis on turning out voters before Election Day, and more people are starting to prefer the convenience of early voting.
"It's critical to perform well in the early vote, so we really focused on directing people to go door to door in their neighborhoods," said Will Watson, strategic director with the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Seth Mays, director for the Republican Party of Arkansas' Victory campaign, said this year's election is on par with previous midterm elections. Mays said he sees a trend of more voters wanting to "check off that box and not wait in lines of course on election day," but officials won't know whether an increase in early voting is being driven by candidates and issues, rather than just trends, until after the election.
In the state's largest counties, early vote numbers appear to be on track with 2018 levels, local election officials said. In Pulaski County, there were 60,152 early votes as of Friday afternoon and numbers are on track to match or surpass the 65,946 early votes in 2018, a Pulaski County election official said.
In Benton County, 43,535 voters cast ballots in the first two weeks of early voting, according to Benton County Election Administrator Dana Caler.
"We are seeing that it's pretty much right on track with the 2018 midterm elections," she said.
Caler said total voter turnout in 2018 was at 50% with early voting totals reaching around 47%. She said early voting numbers in 2022 were at 25% as of Friday afternoon, but more people have moved into Northwest Arkansas over the past two years so the numbers might seem different.
In Saline County, 22,138 voted during the first two weeks of early voting, bringing the county's voter turnout to 28%, according to Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis' website. Data shows this year's turnout is tracking to tie or exceed the turnout in 2018, which reached 25,253.
Early vote totals in Craighead County had already surpassed the 2018 level with two days of early voting left. As of Friday afternoon, 15,274 ballots were cast in the county, 1,191 more than in 2018.
In Garland County, 19,653 votes had been cast as of Friday afternoon, which will likely surpass early vote totals from the 2018 election.
In Faulkner County, 22,968 voters cast ballots during the first two weeks of early voting, according to the Faulkner County Commission's Facebook page.