My fascination with the political process was sparked in fifth grade as I observed and participated in my first presidential election between Bush-Dukakis (circa 1988). The stakes were high as my elementary school held a mock election. If memory serves me well, Bush took Gocio Elementary by a slim margin and went on to secure the presidency. The belief that the people’s voice had power was reaffirmed by my parent’s participation in the electoral process. The voice of the people speaks the loudest on election day. Opinions about the current political climate are plenty. Whether or not the trajectory of the republic continues on its current path will largely be decided in a few short weeks. Rather than adding one more cog in the wheel of political opinion, I have chosen to designate this space to encourage you to participate in the process.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “We do not have a government by the majority, we have a government by the majority who participate.” Over the past few year’s an encouraging trend has emerged in Van Buren County as more and more individuals are choosing to participate by registering to vote. Despite the pandemic County Clerk Pam Bradford said, “(Voter) Registrations have been increasing the last few years and this (as of September 7th) year we are already at 10,136.” While registrations might be trending up, voter turnout remains steady. Voter turnout for the previous two presidential elections averaged 72 percent in the county while the previous two Mid-Term’s saw turnout drop to 61 percent, a trend consistent with the national average. Whether or not the pandemic will have a significant impact on turnout is yet to be seen. It does, however, seem to be impacting the way we will vote this year.

There are three ways that you can vote in the election this year. You must be a registered voter. The last day to register to vote in the General Election is October 5th. Pursuant to Arkansas Law [A.C.A. § 7-5-402] you may request an absentee ballot. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by mail is Tuesday, October 27th. Bradford said, “You can mail in your absentee ballot, but if you are concerned with postal service issues you may also return your absentee ballot in person at the clerk’s office on or before election day.” Voters may also choose to vote early or vote traditionally in person on election day, November 3rd.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 61 percent of those surveyed are preferring to vote early either by mail or in person. A slightly less scientific personal poll on social media revealed similar numbers with 65 percent of respondents choosing to vote early, 17 percent voting on election day, and 13 percent choosing to vote absentee. Van Buren County has seen an increase in those requesting absentee ballots. Over 300 requests for absentee ballots have been requested thus far. Bradford said, “Mostly the elderly populations are the ones that are requesting the absentee ballots.” Immune compromised individuals have been encouraged to vote early or by absentee to avoid the large crowds anticipated on election day.

Early voting will also look a little different this year at the county annex. Pursuant to current CDC guidelines, social distancing measures will be taken and masks are required as you enter the annex. Bradford said, “The state has also provided the county with disinfectant material to ensure that all the precautions are being made to keep everyone healthy and safe.” The annex will have a single point of entry and exit that will be clearly marked to ensure that social distancing is observed.

The integrity of the electoral process has already surfaced as a prevailing narrative. This narrative of fear is unwarranted given the history of the absentee ballot system. For years we have provided this option to members of our military, college students, and even the President of the United States. Bradford also noted, “The Clerk’s office is taking every step to ensure that the integrity of our elections and the voting process is protected.” The process should be one that is equitable and accessible to all regardless of the method you chose to exercise your constitutional right.

The county is also seeking poll workers to assist with the anticipated volume on election day. If you are interested in volunteering as a poll worker you are encouraged to contact Election Commissioner Phillip Ellis at pwellis1960@gmail.com. In Van Buren County a large number of retirees constitute the majority of the poll workers in the county. Due to the high level of immune comparability that this demographic presents, if you are able to assist in this capacity, it is highly encouraged. Poll workers play a critical roll in ensuring that the integrity of the electoral process is maintained.

Political opinions seem to be plentiful these days. It is my observation that the voice of the people is amplified when we participate in a process that for many years was only afforded to the select few. Your voice has immense power and it is exercised best at the ballot box.

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