The news is promising for an early clue Tuesday night on the election outcome in Pulaski County, the state’s most populous.

Early voting ends at 6 p.m. today. At last count, more than 106,000 had cast early votes, compared with 79,453 in 2016, the last presidential election.

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Also, the return of absentee ballots has been record-breaking

Bryan Poe, director of the commission, said 27,767 absentee ballots were requested and, at last count, 24,109 had been returned. Only 4,393 were cast in 2016. The canvassing crew has worked through about 20,000 of those ballots checking names, birthdates, addresses and signatures. More than 17,000 have been cleared for counting. Of the roughly 2,000-plus held up for inconsistencies, many will be corrected and counted, though signature mismatches will not be.

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If, as appears likely, there are fewer than 25,000 absentee ballots to count on election day, a new high-speed machine should be able to process them for the announcement of the early and absentee tally at an Election Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Poe said.

That means somewhere in the neighborhood of 130,000 votes, not counting election day voting, will be revealed shortly after the polls close. In 2016, the total vote was 161,370. There are more polls open to voters this year, including vote centers. In 2016, 77,286 voted election day. I’d guess that number will decline some this year. But who knows? Enthusiasm is high.

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The early/absentee vote seems likely to forecast the outcome in most cases, with a notable exception, the race for 2nd District Congress. Other counties — Conway, Perry, Faulkner, Van Buren, Saline and White — also fall in the district and none is expected to be carried by Democrat Joyce Elliott against Republican Rep. French Hill. The question is whether the softening of Trump’s support could cut into Trump defender Hill’s margin in those counties. Combined with an expected big win in Pulaski County, Elliott might have a shot.

UPDATE: final day report from election commission:

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7,857 Early Votes were cast as of 5:00 p.m. on Monday, 11/2/2020 in the November 3, 2020General Election. That brings the total number of votes cast in this election to 108,573.

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