Absentee ballot request forms will soon go out to Iowa registered voters

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Voters can send in forms now if they'd like

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

The Iowa Legislative Council voted on July 17 to allow the Secretary of State’s office to send absentee ballot request forms to all of the state’s registered voters ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

Secretary of State Paul Pate did the same prior to Iowa’s June primary election, which broke state records for turnout, but the legislative council initially denied his request for another statewide mailing.

“I want Iowa voters and poll workers to be safe during this pandemic while we conduct a clean, fair and secure election. After consulting with all 99 county auditors, I believe the best way to accomplish that goal is by mailing an absentee ballot request form to every active registered voter in the state,” Pate said following approval of an emergency directive. “Voters will still have the option of casting their ballot in person and we will provide resources to protect Iowans who choose that method. This process worked great in the June primary and I believe it will work in the general election.”

The move is welcome news to Clayton County Auditor Jennifer Garms.

“It’s not cost effective for counties our size to mail absentee request forms out ourselves,” she explained.

According to Garms, the statewide mailing is tentatively scheduled to happen in mid- to late-August, but voters can send in absentee ballot request forms now if they’d like. Forms can be found on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website and printed out. Original, signed forms must then be returned to the county auditor’s office.

Garms said it’s important voters fill out the form entirely, and check it over, before sending it in to her office. While people were previously asked to include their social security number for identification, a driver’s license or voter identification number is now needed instead.

“You do have to have your residential address,” she added. “Some people just put their P.O. box. Some people even forget to sign it.”

Unlike in the past, county auditors will not be able to use their voter database to fill in incomplete or incorrect information on the request form. By including your phone number, said Garms, staff can contact you if they have questions.

Eighty percent of the over 533,000 Iowans who voted in the primary election did so via absentee ballot. In Clayton County, the mail-in option helped drive voter turnout from anticipated single digits to over 20 percent.

Garms expects a similar outcome in November.

“Normally, for a general election, 35 percent of people vote absentee,” she said. “I’m assuming more than that, maybe 50 percent, this time.”

The COVID-19 pandemic will impact people’s choices.

“If the pandemic is the same or worse closer to October, it might generate more absentee ballots,” she noted.

Absentee ballots will start going out to voters on Oct. 5. The sooner county auditors have request forms, the easier and more organized the process will be, Garms said.

Once you submit your absentee ballot request form, it can be monitored with the “Track Your Absentee Ballot” feature on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

For more information, contact the Clayton County Auditor’s Office at (563) 245-1106.

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