Everyone has questions about the November election. The future of the country is at stake in the middle of a pandemic.

Will it be safe to vote? Will people be willing to work at polls? If you choose to vote absentee, how will that work? I took a reader’s questions to Bryan Poe, director of the Pulaski County Election Commission.

1) How many poll workers does Pulaski County currently have in their database? 

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We have 1,089 active poll workers in our database currently, although that number changes by the day.

2) Have you surveyed all poll workers whether or not they are willing to work on Election Day given COVID-19?  If so, what were the results?

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Yes.  We sent a mail survey to 1,085 active poll workers.  As of Aug. 5 we had 403 “Yes” responses, 241 “No” responses, and additional 70 ambiguous responses that require follow up.

3) How many poll workers did not respond to the survey? 

371 poll workers have not responded to the survey at this point.  We will reach out to them by other means (email, phone, etc.)

4) How will you determine if you can count on them to reliably show up and work on Election Day?

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We will have a more reliable count once we start taking attendance at poll worker training, which begins next week.

5) How will poll worker training be different in this election given COVID-19 and new election hardware being used for the first time?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to restrict our class sizes to 20.  In past years we would routinely have classes of over 100.  We currently have 84 training sessions scheduled.  For a general election in past years, we would typically schedule fewer than 20 training sessions.

Will it be harder?

It will definitely be more time consuming, but that will be offset a bit by the smaller class sizes.

6) How many total poll workers do you need November 3 working in all the polling places?

Our goal is to recruit and train 960 poll workers to work in the General Election, an average of 8 per poll.

7) How many absentee ballot requests have been received to date? 

6,201

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How does that compare to the number of absentee ballots requested in 2016 by this date?

I’m not sure of the exact number, but when I last spoke to the Clerk’s office on the subject, I was told that its about 275% of the same period for 2016.

8) How many absentee ballots do you expect to be requested in total by election Day?

That is one of the great unknowns.  Based on the rates of absentee voting in the spring and summer primaries in other states, I would not be surprised to see 40,000 or more absentee ballot requests.

(As for counting ballots received, he told me the secretary of state had approved funding for a high-capacity machine to count the absentee ballots election day, which should speed the counting. The governor has also allowed all counties to open the absentee ballot return envelopes to get a head start on preparations for opening the ballot envelope on election day.)

What percentage of registered voters in Pulaski County do you expect to vote by absentee/mail-in ballots?

Anything at this point is pure speculation, but 25% would not surprise me.

9) What is the Vote Center Plan? 

The Vote Center Plan is a plan prepared by our office to open a limited number of vote centers (where anyone registered in the county can vote) on Election Day in the county.  We are going to open all of our current early voting sites in addition to the polls that we used in the primary on Election Day.  Additionally, we will open all of our early voting sites on Monday, November 2.  (Traditionally, we’ve only opened one)

Will it increase or decrease the number of places people can vote during early voting and on Election Day? 

IF all goes to plan, it will increase the total number of voting sites by 12.

10) How many polling places have informed the election commission they are not willing to allow their facilities to be used this November due to COVID-19? 

At this point, we have 103 polls committed to open on November 3, 8 that have declined to do so, and additional 9 where we are awaiting a decision

How many new polling places have you found that are willing to allow their facilities to be used in November?

We have secured 4 facilities to replace the polls that have declined at this point.

(Note from me: Two polls that will have to be replaced are two of the biggest voting precincts in the city, Pulaski Heights Presbyterian, which might move to a church south of Markham Street) and Pulaski Heights United Methodist.)

11) When will absentee/mail-in ballots be sent to people who have requested them?  

The statutory deadline for the Clerk to mail out the first set of absentee ballots is September 17, 2020, although we would like to send them out sooner if the logistics permit.

Here’s information from the secretary of state on absentee ballots:

Deadline for submission of application for an absentee ballot:

  • In Person: by close of business the day BEFORE the election
  • By Designated Bearer or Administrator: by close of business the day BEFORE the election(Designated Bearer is anyone you choose to pick up or deliver your application or ballot)
  • By Mail or by Electronic Means: by 7 days before the election
  • By Authorized Agent: by 1:30 p.m. ON election day.The authorized agent must file with the County Clerk an affidavit from the administrative head of a hospital or nursing home located in this state verifying that the applicant is a patient of the hospital or long-term care or residential care facility licensed by the state and is thereby unable to vote on the election day at his or her regular polling site.

Deadline for Ballot Pickup:

  • By Designated Bearers: no earlier than 15 days before a preferential primary election, general election, school election or special election and no earlier than 7 days before a runoff election.
  • By Anyone Else: no deadline specified in Arkansas law. You should base your ballot pick up on the ability to return it to the County Clerk on time.

Deadline for Delivery of Voted Ballot to County Clerk:

  • In Person: by close of business the day BEFORE the election
  • By Designated Bearer: by 7:30 p.m. ON election day
  • By Mail: received at clerks office by 7:30 p.m. ON election dayYou may NOT fax or email a ballot. UOCAVA voters must vote their ballot by Election Day, and it must be received by their county clerk by 5:00 p.m. 10 days after the election.
  • By Authorized Agent: by 7:30 p.m. ON election day

Remember that it is now the law, by the governor’s decree, that COVID-19 fears are a sufficient reason to check the box “unavoidable” absence from polls as a reason to request an absentee ballot. Essentially, anyone can request a mail absentee ballot for any reason.

But remember, too, that Donald Trump is trying to sabotage the Postal Service. That was underway even before the election issue arose in which he’s decided — against all evidence — that mail voting somehow favors Democrats more than Republicans. But if a mail absentee doesn’t reach the commission by election day, it won’t count. (There is an exception for military and overseas ballots, which get 10 more days.)