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LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that the state will allow anyone who might be concerned about their health during the current COVID-19 pandemic to vote by absentee ballot.

Election officials have been concerned about the possibility of a surge of the virus that might make voting very difficult. In Boone County, election officials had made plans for social distancing, extra sanitation and special procedures for the two weeks of early voting and election day across the entire county.

Absentee ballots have historically been available only for people who would be unavoidably away during the election.

The implementation of early voting has made absentee voting unnecessary for most people.

However, voters could also request an absentee ballot if they would be unable to get to a polling place due to illness or physical disability.

Hutchinson said Secretary of State John Thurston has interpreted that to mean health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutchinson said.

So, anyone with such a concern would qualify under the law to receive an absentee ballot.

“I am pleased to say that I am in full agreement with the secretary of state’s interpretation of this and I fully support that and will work to implement that,” Hutchinson said.

“Elections are the bedrock of our republic and among the election community across the nation, security was the topic with Russian interference and so forth,” Thurston said.

With the advent of the pandemic, officials then began wondering how the November election will look. He said it was his opinion that the election will look like those in the past, with the exception of people wearing masks and gloves. But it will also include the addition of relaxed absentee voting.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot by mail or fax is Oct. 27, Thurston said. People can still acquire an absentee ballot in person or by bearer until Nov. 2. Absentee ballots must be received at the county clerk’s office by 7:30 p.m. on election day, he said.

He also said you must be a registered voter to receive an absentee ballot and the deadline to register for the November election is Oct. 5.

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