Concern was expressed in a Thursday meeting of the Mississippi County Election Commission about the high number of absentee ballots being cast in both the recent primary and its resulting runoff, which is currently in the early voting phase. During the primary election, a total of 4,563 votes were cast, over half of them during early voting. Of that total, 231 were absentee ballots. County Clerk Lib Shippen told the commission that as of Monday, the courthouse had processed 200 absentee ballots for the runoff in Osceola alone, and that Blytheville employees had reported inflated numbers as well. As of Friday morning, the Osceola courthouse had processed 275 absentee ballots, and the Blytheville Courthouse had processed 151. Clerk’s office employees report that this number is much higher than it has been in previous elections, and that people are being “hauled” in to request absentee ballots by others.
According to Arkansas election law, a registered voter may cast an absentee ballot if they:
— Will be “unavoidably absent from [their] voting place on the day of the election; or
— Will be unable to attend the polls on election day because of illness or physical disability.
Officials said the county, especially in the south, has a need for stricter enforcement of these regulations when it comes to distribution of absentee ballots. Shippen also outlined several incidents which have caused her concern in recent days, as absentee ballots are requested and turned in, often through a “bearer,” or person designated by the voter to carry the ballot to them and back to the courthouse.
One concern was that more than one person may carry a single person’s ballot as their bearer, with one person being designated to pick up the ballot and another to drop it off. This practice is not illegal, according to Tim Humphries, attorney with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, who said that more than one person may be designated as a bearer for a single ballot. It does, however, serve to create confusion for election officials who are attempting to track designated bearers based on a list of handwritten signatures.