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With early voting starting Monday, the need for absentee ballots should become less important, officials hope. But there is still a little time if absolutely necessary.

During the primary runoff election in March, with public facilities locking down amid the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Asa Hutchinson waived the requirement that voters could only vote by absentee ballot due to illness, physical disability or the voter being unavoidably absent, dubbed no-excuse absentee voting. That was to help avoid long voter lines when social gathering limitations were set.

Then, in early July, Hutchinson announced that Secretary of State John Thurston had interpreted the law naming illness as an excuse for an absentee ballot to mean concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant there would be no excuse needed for an absentee ballot.

Boone County election officials explained the process you need to follow in order to obtain an absentee ballot if you want to avoid crowds during the two weeks of early voting and on election day.

The first step is to either email deputy county clerk Penny Goodman at pennybooneclerk@gmail.com or call (870) 204-5476 to request an application for an absentee ballot. It will be sent in the mail.

The application will have your name and address printed on it. You must fill out the application, including your signature to give the clerk’s office permission to mail you an absentee ballot.

The application is accompanied by a self-addressed and postage paid envelope in which you will return the application to the clerk’s office. When it is received, you will be signed up as an absentee voter for the November 2020 General Election and any potential runoff.

When you receive your ballot, it will be accompanied by instructions that clearly state that a copy of your photo ID as required by law must be included.

The packet also includes a voter statement form that you must fill out with your signature, printed name, date of birth and address.

You must mark your ballot with your choice of candidates and issues. You then place the ballot in the envelope that comes in the packet. There is no signature on the ballot to ensure the secret ballot process, so it must be put in the envelope and sealed.

You then must put the voter statement form, copy of your ID and the ballot into the self-addressed and postage paid envelope and put it in the mail.

Boone County officials say they had mailed more than 1,200 absentee ballots as of early last week with more requests arriving daily.

Secretary of State Thurston said earlier this year that the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail or internet is Oct. 27, but that date could be arbitrary.

Given that Election Day is Nov. 3 and absentee ballots must be returned to the Election Center on that day, the mailing process could take longer than that to complete.

People are encouraged to request an absentee ballot as soon as possible or take advantage or early voting.

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