By Ray King

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said he fully supports a decision by Secretary of State John Thurston that will allow citizens who are concerned about catching COVID-19 at polling places to be able to vote with an absentee ballot.

Currently, state law permits the use of an absentee ballot for people who would be out of town on election day or who could not go to their polling place because of sickness or physical disability. Thurston has interpreted the law to mean that fear of contracting COVID-19 would allow voters to request and receive an absentee ballot.

Hutchinson made the announcement during his daily COVID-19 update and was joined by Thurston as well as the Chairmen of the State Democratic and Republican Parties.

Michael John Gray, who is chairman of the Democratic Party said that while the two major political parties disagree on a number of issues, one thing they agree on is the importance of taking safety precautions to protect election workers and the voting public and the decision to allow voters to use absentee ballots will require educating voters on what they have to do.

Doyle Webb, who is chairman of the Republican Party said this approach is different from a mail out ballot which is sent to every registered voter because voters have to ask for it and it will hopefully produce a good voter turnout.

Thurston said in order to request an absentee ballot, people have to be registered voters and the deadline to register to vote in the November General Election is Oct. 5. The deadline for asking for an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 2 and the deadline for picking up an absentee ballot at a county clerk’s office is Nov. 2. Returned ballots must be in by 7:30 p.m. (the time the polls close) on election day.