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Iowa's Top Election Official Says He'll Vote Absentee, Anticipates Most Voters Will Do The Same

An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary in Washington on March 10.
Dom Dada via Flickr Creative Commons
Iowa's top election official says he plans to vote absentee, and due to a surge in interest amid the pandemic, he anticipates most Iowans will do the same.

Iowa’s top election official says he plans to cast an absentee ballot this cycle. Experts are expecting a surge in absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, even as President Donald Trump’s campaign and conservative groups have worked to limit access to this style of voting through legal challenges across the country.

Speaking at a telephone town hall hosted by Iowa AARP on Tuesday, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said he generally prefers to vote early, in-person but he’ll be voting absentee this year.

“I vote in-person at the courthouse. That’s how I prefer to do it because I want that feeling still that I’m doing my civic duty, but I can’t be there on Election Day because I’m busy working here in Des Moines,” Pate said. “But with the COVID, and things are going on, I’m voting absentee. In fact, I filled out my form, my request for absentee form out yesterday.”

As interest in mail-in voting has increased across the country some Republicans, notably Trump, have claimed without evidence that the practice would lead to widespread fraud.

Election experts have maintained that any fraud is so minimal it’s statistically insignificant.

The states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington administer their elections almost entirely through the mail (voters still have the option of voting in-person) and state officials, including Republicans, have attested to their security.

Speaking at the town hall on Tuesday, Pate bemoaned election disinformation and reassured Iowans they can trust their vote will be counted.

“There’s been so much disinformation unfortunately and a little bit too much politics out there on some of these things,” Pate said. “Yes, your ballot will be counted. And again you can check that. You can look on our website or if you really want to you can call the county auditor.”

Even as Pate has encouraged Iowans to vote absentee this cycle, and has mailed every registered voter an absentee ballot request form, Republicans in the state and the Trump campaign have sought to slow the processing of these ballots.

Last week, a Johnson County Judge denied a request to block a law advanced by Republican lawmakers in June to prohibit local election officials from relying on the state’s voter registration system to correct ballot absentee request forms.

Still, experts are expecting Americans to vote by mail at record levels. Pate says Iowa is on track to have as many as 80 percent of voters cast an absentee ballot this election.

So far, some 600,000 Iowans have requested an absentee ballot, which is approaching the total number of Iowans who voted absentee throughout the entire 2016 general election.

“We’re expecting at least 60 percent and it could easily go as high as 80 percent. We’ll know more as we get closer to October 5th when we see just how many of these absentee request forms we’re getting in,” Pate said.

Auditors will begin mailing out absentee ballots on Oct. 5. Iowans have until Oct. 24 to request one.

In order to be counted, absentee ballots must be returned to county auditors by the time polls close on Election Day, or be postmarked the day before Election Day, and arrive at the auditor’s office by noon on the Monday after Election Day.

In-person early voting also begins in October. Polls will be open for in-person and curbside voting on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 3.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter