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Early voting in Benton County will begin on Monday, Oct. 19 and Siloam Springs residents will have two local sites where they can cast their ballots.

Benton County has voting centers so residents can actually vote at any of 16 early voting locations throughout the county, according to Kim Dennison, Benton County Election Commission coordinator. The two locations in Siloam Springs are the county clerk's office, located at 707 S. Lincoln, and the American Legion Community Building, located at 110 N. Mt. Olive.

During previous elections up to 50 percent of the voter turnout has been through early voting, Dennison said. It has become very popular because lines are shorter since it is spread out over a two-week period, she said. The Community Building has been open for early voting for the past two years, but it hasn't seen much traffic, she said.

This year, Dennison is encouraging voters to utilize the Community Building to reduce long lines at the county clerk's office. The clerk's office is small and can only accommodate three voting machines with social distancing while the Community Building will accommodate 15 machines and has plenty of room for spacing them six feet apart, she said.

There will also be four check-in tablets at the Community Building and only one at the clerk's office, Dennison said.

"(Voters) will get in much quicker and out a whole lot faster if they use (the Community Building)," she said.

Because of the covid-19 pandemic, cleaning procedures have been put in place to sanitize voting machines after every use and voters will be handed a stylus to use throughout the polling site visit to keep contact to a minimum, Dennison said. Plexiglas shields will be placed between voters and workers in places where social distancing isn't possible, such as check-in tables, she said.

Benton County has received a record number of requests for absentee ballots for the upcoming election this year, Dennison said. The county clerk's office began mailing out ballots in September for those who would rather not go to the polls.

As of Monday, the county clerk's office received 13,517 requests for absentee ballots, Dennison said. The most the county has ever processed during a previous presidential election is 2,900, she said.

Absentee ballots are available to those who are unavoidably absent from their voting place on the date of the election; any members of the uniformed services, merchant marines and their family members who are away from polling locations due to active duty status; any U.S. citizen who is temporarily living outside of the territorial limits of the United States; and those unable to attend the polls on election day because of illness or physical disability, according to the Benton County website.

Those who wish to vote absentee because of the current health crises should check "unavoidably absent," when filling out the form, the website states.

It will be important for voters who request an absentee ballot to commit to that form of voting, Dennison said. Voters who do change their minds will be required to do additional paperwork and fill out a provisional ballot, she said.

Dennison also urged voters to send their absentee ballots back as soon as possible. Ballots must be received back in the clerk's office by mail on or before election day, she said. Voters can also deliver absentee ballots to the county clerk's office in person any time before election day, but they cannot drop them off in person at the county clerk's office on Election Day and they cannot drop them off at a polling site on election day, she said.

"If you do get an absentee ballot, vote it and mail it back as soon as you can," Dennison said. "Don't wait until a week before the election to put that in the mail; then you do take the chance of it maybe not making it back in time."

Benton County voters can download an application to vote by absentee ballot at vote.bentoncountyar.gov/absentee/.

Once voters submit their absentee ballots, they can check to see if the ballot has been received on the Secretary of State website, voterview.org. The website also features information about polling places and provides sample ballots.

Siloam Springs early voting sites and hours are:

• Siloam Springs Community Building, 110 N. Mt. Olive St.: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 19 to Nov. 2.

• Siloam Springs County Clerk's Office, 707 S. Lincoln St.: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 19 to Oct. 30; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 24 and 31; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2.

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Siloam Springs early voting sites and hours

Siloam Springs Community Building, 110 N. Mt. Olive St.; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 19 to Nov. 2.

Siloam Springs County Clerk's Office, 707 S. Lincoln St.; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, Oct. 19 to Oct. 30; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 24 and 31; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2.

For a full list of early voting sites in Benton County and additional election information, visit vote.bentoncountyar.gov.

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