“People have listened and they heard. They got the message: let’s vote safe, let’s vote from home right now,” says Secretary of State Paul Pate, the state’s commissioner of elections.
His office mailed absentee ballot request forms to every registered Iowa voter, encouraging Iowans to ask their county auditor for the vote-by-mail option rather than in-person voting on Primary Day.
“I think the pandemic has put a much stronger emphasis on voting,” Pate says. “People are at home. They’re paying attention to what the government’s doing.”
The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is Friday at 5 p.m. and officials suggest any request sent through the U.S. Postal Service be mailed today to ensure it gets to the county auditor on time. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald says in Iowa’s largest county, an average of about 9000 people typically ask for an absentee ballot for a Primary. His office has already processed 10,000 “and we still have 54,000 requests,” Fitzgerald says.
While there will be in-person voting available on Primary day, election officials like Fitzgerald are encouraging Iowans to use this vote-at-home option.
“We are in the pandemic,” Fitzgerald says. “You have people now that are voting safely, making sure they don’t spread the virus.”
Pate says Iowa National Guard soldiers distributed personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to county auditors last week that will be used by poll workers at precinct voting sites on June 2nd. Each voting booth will be cleaned between uses. Some counties plan to offer voters gloves. In Polk County, each Primary Day voter will be given their own pen to use and take with them after they cast their ballot.
“We want Iowans to be able to vote,” Pate says. “We want them to be able to vote safely and we want our poll workers to be safe.”
Fitzgerald says in Polk County — and most others — the number of precincts have been reduced, to ensure there’s enough space inside for social distancing and to make sure there are enough poll workers.
“I don’t want to wake up like they did in Wisconsin and find out that 400 people have quit, so we’re constantly training,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re constantly talking to our poll workers.”
Pate predicts as many as 70 percent of ballots cast in the June Primary, however, will be absentee ballots. He says Iowans can track their absentee ballots on www.voterready.iowa.gov.
“When the auditor’s office receives your request i’ll show that. It’ll show when the auditor sends (the absentee ballot) out. It’ll show when it got back to the auditor’s office, Pate says, “so you know it got there.”
The two election officials made their comments this weekend on the “Iowa Press” program on Iowa PBS. They both are urging Iowans voting by mail to avoid a common mistake — and remember to sign and date the ballot.