Absentee ballot voting to begin

Absentee ballot request numbers are trending upward in Tama County as absentee ballots will begin to be mailed starting Oct. 5.

The June primary saw record breaking voter turnout in both overall votes cast as well as absentee ballots submitted.

529,586 Iowans cast ballots in the June primary, eclipsing the previous primary record of 449,490 set in 1994.

With a contentious presidential election leading the ticket and the COVID-19 pandemic still at work in Iowa, all indications point toward another high turnout in absentee voting this fall.

This week, county auditor offices across the state are preparing to send out absentee ballots to thousands of voters who have submitted request forms. Auditors will send the initial batch of absentee ballots through the mail beginning Monday. Voters have until October 24 at 5 p.m. to deliver an absentee request form to their auditor’s office so that they may receive a ballot in the mail in time to be filled out and returned by the deadline in November.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2.

In Tama County as of Tuesday, the county auditor’s office had received 2,373 absentee ballot requests. During the most recent presidential election in 2016, voters in Tama County cast a total of 2,648 absentee ballots.

Although the absentee numbers in Tama County have not yet exceeded their respective 2016 totals, there remains more than three weeks for voters to request a ballot and at 89% to the 2016 total, all signs point toward a potential for high voter turnout in the 2020 general election.

Absentee process

Voters may submit a ballot request form they have previously received in the mail, at the auditor’s office, or on their auditor’s website. Staff members at the auditor’s office will review each ballot request form submitted for accuracy and if any information is missing the voter is contacted to inform them they will need to fill out a new request form.

Complete ballot requests are then entered into the statewide IVoter system which matches the information on the request form to their voting record with the Secretary of State to ensure each voter receives one ballot. Information from each absentee ballot request form is also verified through the IVoter system as another means of quality control. If any of the information from the request form does not match the IVoter record, the auditor’s office initiates the same contact process to have the information verified.

Each voter utilizing the absentee ballot process will have a ballot number they can use to track their ballot on the Secretary of State’s website as it proceeds through the mailing process.

The county auditor’s office has been in close communication with the United States Postal Service offices in and serving Tama County regarding the upcoming election mailing process and have been assured the postal service is ready and capable of handling an increased volume of election mail if the need arises.

Voters with absentee ballots may return them in the mail or utilize the contactless drop-off system in person at the Tama County Auditor’s Office across the street from the courthouse in Toledo. Early voting is also available in person at the auditor’s office.

As election officials prepare for what could be a heavy influx of ballots to process this fall, the Secretary of State’s office recently set forth some procedures that should assist with processing in-person and mail-in voting this Nov.

The Associated Press reported that last Friday that Secretary of State Paul Pate received unanimous approval from the Iowa Legislative Council to allow voters to use a driver’s license as identification at the polls even if it expired in 2020. The council also will allow Pate to relocate a polling place in an emergency and will allow nursing home residents to receive ballots by mail rather than have them hand-delivered as required by state law.

Another measure allows county election officials to remove absentee ballots from their outer envelopes on Saturday, Oct. 31, a day when county election offices are open to allow early in-person voting. The ballots will still be in a secrecy envelope, but removing them from the outer envelope will allow officials to begin tabulating the ballots sooner the following Monday, when state law allows counting to start.

Tama County Auditor Laura Kopsa said she and her staff feel prepared and comfortable with the prospect of processing a higher number of ballots and do not anticipate higher mail-in ballot turnout to have an impact on the election results reporting on Nov. 3 after polls close at 9 p.m.

“As soon as you get your ballot look it over, vote it, and return it right away,” Kopsa said. “It’s postage paid so you don’t have to pay for the postage to mail it back and just take your time in filling it out.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting each county in Iowa, there have been instances where a shortage of poll workers has resulted in the consolidation of voting precincts.

Kopsa noted two precinct consolidations would occur in Tama County for the Nov. election. Grant Township in north central Tama County traditionally held their voting at the Amity Church but a shortage of available poll workers will result in Grant Township voters instead attending the Traer precinct at the Traer Memorial Building on Nov. 3. Voters who used to attend the Lincoln voting precinct at the Lincoln AMVETS Hall will similarly now go to the Gladbrook Memorial Building to vote in Nov.