Muskogee County voters who plan to vote early during the upcoming election will cast ballots this year at the Muskogee Civic Center.
Early voting typically takes place at the Muskogee County Election Board at the County Services Building. Officials opted for a larger venue as a way to manage a greater number of people planning to vote early due to public health concerns.
Election Board Secretary Kelly Beach said rerouting early voters through the basement of the County Services Building worked well in August for the primary runoff elections. But he anticipated even more early voters in advance of the Nov. 3 election, and a decision was made about a month ago to move early voting to the Civic Center.
"It's going to be a departure due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Beach said. "We plan to have a bunch of voting booths spread out all over the arena floor — hopefully that will make it go quicker, and everybody can stay safe."
Beach said a "big turnout" at the Civic Center could alleviate bottlenecks voters sometimes see at the county's largest precincts on Election Day. He said the historically high number of requests for absentee ballots should also ease congestion at the polls Nov. 3.
Muskogee County election officials had mailed 3,626 absentee ballots to voters — more than quadruple the 899 that were counted during the 2016 presidential election. Beach said 2,177 voters had already returned their ballots, and election board members have met periodically to open the envelopes and prepare the ballots for tabulation after polls close Nov. 3.
"We've been getting inundated with them," Beach said about absentee ballot applications and the completed ballots. "There is still some time to request an absentee ballot, but we're starting to get to the point that we're emphasizing early voting more and more just because of the time factor."
Applications for absentee ballots must be received by county election boards no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday. Beach said he and his staff plan to stay late that night to process applications and mail ballots that were received by 5 p.m., but that is a firm deadline.
Absentee voters may apply in person at the election board office, by mail, fax or e-mail. An online application may be submitted electronically at www.elections.ok.gov.
State law allows all registered voters who are eligible to vote in an election to vote by absentee ballot without stating a reason. Beach said absentee voters, however, can activate certain special conditions for the following circumstances:
• Registered voters who are physically incapacitated and voters who care for physically incapacitated persons who cannot be left unattended may apply for absentee ballots only by mail, fax, e-mail, online or via an agent at least 16 years old and not employed by or related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity to any person whose name appears on the ballot.
• Registered voters who are confined to nursing homes in the county may apply by mail, by fax, by e-mail, online or via an agent who is at least 16 years old and not employed by or related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity to any person whose name appears on the ballot.
• Military personnel, residents of Muskogee County living overseas, and the spouses and dependents of each group may apply only by mail, by fax, or by e-mail. For more information and instructions, military and overseas voters may visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website: www.fvap.gov/oklahoma.
What to do
Early voting in Oklahoma begins Thursday — voters who live outside Muskogee County should contact election officials where they reside for locations. Voters may cast in-person absentee ballots during the three-day early voting period from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Muskogee Civic Center, 425 Boston St.
For more information about absentee voting, contact the Muskogee County Election Board, 400 W. Broadway, Room 120. Election officials may be contacted by telephone at (918) 687-8151. The County Election Board's fax number is (918) 687-0382.