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Benton County officials are receiving a record number of requests for absentee ballots for the upcoming election.

The county clerk's office began mailing out absentee ballots last week for those who would rather not go to the polls on election day according to Kim Dennison, election coordinator for the Benton County Election Commission. Voters can continue to request them through Oct. 27, she said.

As of Thursday, the county clerk's office had already received 9,637 absentee ballot requests, 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, according to Dennison. Voters who do change their minds will be required to do additional paperwork and fill out a provisional ballot, she said.

"If you do request an absentee ballot, make sure you vote that ballot and send it back because, if you change your mind and want to go to the polls on election day, you will have to vote a provisional ballot and that ballot doesn't get counted until we can verify that we didn't receive the absentee ballot back," 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 mail 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.

Early voting begins on Oct. 19, Dennison said. Benton County has vote centers, so county residents can vote at any of the 16 early voting locations throughout the county, including the two early voting sites in Siloam Springs -- the county clerk's office, located at 707 S. Lincoln, and the Community Building, located at 110 N. Mt. Olive.

Dennison is encouraging voters to utilize the Community Building site because it has 15 voting machines and plenty of space to spread them six feet apart for social distancing, in comparison with the county clerk's office, which will only have three voting machines.

The county clerk's office will be open for early voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, starting Oct. 19 through Nov. 2.

The Community Building will be open for early voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, starting Oct. 19 through Nov. 2.

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