Beginning August 30, the Iowan can submit absentee ballot request forms to county auditors for the November 8 election.
I’m a strong supporter of voting before Election Day, and Iowa Democrats need to rack up early votes in the medium term to counter the long-standing advantage of GOP turnout.
But Republicans have fundamentally changed Iowa’s voting laws since the last general election. So even if you have already voted by mail, I would encourage you to make different plans to vote this year.
Why avoid the mail?
A law enacted in early 2021 restricted every aspect of early voting. The Iowan can start requesting absentee ballots 70 days before the election, but the first day county auditors can mail ballots to voters is October 19 (just 20 days before the election).
Years ago, auditors could start mailing ballots 40 days before the Iowa election. This left a lot of time for dealing with mistakes. If you make a mistake filling out your absentee card this year, it will probably be too late for your county auditor to send you a replacement card. (The last day they can mail a ballot is October 24, fifteen days before the election.)
While Iowa law allowed for late arriving ballots to be counted if they were stamped before election day, current law requires that all ballots arrive at the county auditor’s office by 8:00 pm Nov. 8. (Exceptions apply to a limited number of voters, such as active-duty military personnel.)
Bleeding Heartland’s review of data provided by county auditors showed that at least 150 Iowan citizens who submitted their absentee ballots before the June 2022 primary election did not get the vote count, because the cards arrived late. The majority of voters deprived of civil rights in this way were trying to vote in the Republican primaries.
Those who live outside the big cities tend to have slower mail delivery, and therefore are more at risk of absentee ballots being thrown for this reason.
Previous Iowa law allowed friends, neighbors, or volunteers to collect and deliver complete absentee ballots to the county auditor’s office. Under the law enacted by Republicans in 2021, only the voter, someone living in the same family or a close family member at the fourth degree of consanguinity can collect and return a complete ballot paper for most Iowans. (Blind or physically disabled voters can designate someone else to return their ballot.) Ballot restrictions have been challenged in court but remain in effect.
Voting early in person is less risky
All 99 county auditor offices will offer early in-person voting beginning October 19 and will offer this opportunity during business hours every weekday through Monday November 7.
Some county auditors will also provide Saturday voting times or satellite locations such as public libraries and community centers, where voters can request and fill out an absentee ballot on the spot. A few weeks before early voting begins, check with your county auditor where and when alternative voting venues will be open.
If you live in Iowa and will be here between October 19 and November 7, I encourage you to think creatively to find a way to vote in person this year. Even if you’re not mobile, maybe there is someone who occasionally takes you to doctor’s appointments or runs errands. Schedule a day that that person will pick you up and take you to the county election office to vote.
County Auditor Offices have accessible ballot marking devices for those who need help filling out ballot papers.
Important note: when you vote in person in advance, you need to fill out the form and send it right there; you can’t take it home to review later. So research in advance for races in your area (including any county-level offices).
If you need to vote by mail
Some Iowans have no alternative to voting by mail. They can attend college out of state or spend part of the year in a warmer place.
To maximize the chances of your vote being counted, request your vote well in advance of the October 24 deadline for submitting an absentee ballot request form. You want your county auditor to process your request in time to mail your ballot on October 19th.
If you have Internet access and a printer, you can immediately download an absentee ballot request form from the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. Mail it or hand it to your county electoral office.
If you can’t print your absentee ballot request form, call or email your county auditor’s office and ask them to send you one.
Some county auditors used to mail the forms to all registered voters in their jurisdictions. But Iowa Republicans outlawed this practice in 2021, for no good reason. Auditors are now prohibited from sending an absentee voting request form to anyone who does not specifically request it.
The Linn County Electoral Bureau provided this helpful advice in a post on Faceboook: “If you are away from home, remember to include the address ‘where your ballot should be sent’, where it will arrive to you much later anyway. the October 19th mail sent on that date is likely to arrive there. “
If you live in Iowa and request an absentee ballot at your home address, try completing it quickly and hand-delivering it to your county auditor, or mailing it well in advance of election day.
If you live in another part of the country, fill out the absentee card as soon as possible after receiving it. You may want to spend a little more to return the envelope overnight to your county auditor or send it by priority mail.
Be careful not to make mistakes when filling out the absentee form. If you cross or cross signs, forget to sign the sworn statement envelope, or forget to seal the secret envelope, your vote will not be counted and it will likely be too late to receive a replacement card.
Final Note: The Republican Party of Iowa sent an email on August 30 to encourage voters to “call for a safe and legal absentee vote!” The many new barriers that GOP lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds have recently created for Iowans who prefer to vote by mail was not mentioned. Based on what happened in June, I expect thousands of ballots to arrive too late to be counted in November, many of them sent by Republicans living in rural Iowa.
Top chart posted on the Linn County Electoral Bureau Facebook page on Aug.30.