Absentee ballot

County auditors offices in N'West Iowa have received a steady stream of absentee voting requests since they started accepting such requests July 6.

REGIONAL—Barb Rohwer’s office has received more than 300 requests for absentee ballots for the general election as of Aug. 26, but the O’Brien County auditor anticipates that number will grow to at least 5,000.

“And that might be on the conservative side,” Rohwer said.

The four county auditors’ offices in N’West Iowa have already seen a steady influx of requests for absentee ballots since they began accepting those requests July 6.

As it did for the June primaries, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office will mail absentee request forms to active Iowa voters in the next few weeks.

This will be done to encourage as many people as possible to vote from home to lessen the number of people at polling places on Nov. 3 in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Request forms are also available to be printed off from individual county websites and Pate’s website.

County auditors offices will start mailing out absentee ballots Oct. 5, although Rohwer noted mailing will start earlier for people living overseas or serving in the military who vote absentee.

Once absentee ballot requests have been entered into auditors’ election management systems, voters can track the progress of their absentee ballot using a tool on Pate’s website.

“It’ll show that we have received their absentee request, the date that we entered it into our system and then once the 5th comes, it’ll show when we mailed it out or if we’ve received it also,” Rohwer said. “It’s really kind of slick.”

Like Rohwer, the other auditors in N’West Iowa expect more people to vote in the general election and to do so by absentee ballot.

Lyon County auditor Jennifer Smit said her office received about 450 absentee requests as of Aug. 27 and expected to get more in the coming weeks.

In the June primary elections, more than 3,000 Lyon County voters cast absentee ballots while a little more than 600 voted in person. Smit also noted only one polling place was open for the primaries.

“We’re going to have all of ours open hopefully for the general,” Smit said. “The way the requests are coming in, I don’t see it being any less than what we had in the primary.”

Osceola County auditor Rochelle Van Tilburg said more people in the county voted absentee than in person during the June primary election. Already, her office has received more than 300 absentee ballot requests as of Aug. 26.

“If it’s any indication what we’ve got so far, I’m thinking absentee turnout is going to be more than at the polls,” Van Tilburg said. “I think it all depends on the pandemic, how bad it is.”

Sioux County auditor Ryan Dokter’s office has also been busy processing absentee requests. He said the office has received about 1,600 as of Aug. 27.

“They just keep coming steadily day by day,” Dokter said. “There are some that are missing some information that we need to get tracked down from the voter and so we’re working on those mailings and contacting the voters that way.”

Dokter guessed the number of absentee votes this year will surpass the number who voted absentee in the 2016 general election.

“We roughly had 6,000 absentee votes then and then there was around 12,000 people that voted in person,” he said. “I think we’ll still see a pretty high number of people voting in person but we might see some number above 6,000 for absentee voting.”

Rohwer noted recent concerns about the U.S. Postal Service having delayed delivery times due to the pandemic but said she is not worried that will be an issue for absentee ballots in the general election.

“We have had e-mail from the postmaster from the Iowa division and they assure us that they are up and operational and everything will be running fine,” Rohwer said.

“We had a very positive experience with the mail service for the June election, so I guess I’m really not worried about that.”

Nonetheless, if people don’t feel comfortable returning their absentee ballot by mail, Rohwer said they can deliver it to their county auditor’s office in person.

Although some counties accepted absentee ballots in drop boxes outside their courthouses during the June primary elections, counties will not be able to receive ballots for the general election that way.