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Local Election Officials In Iowa Begin Prepping Absentee Ballots To Be Counted

Kate Payne
On Saturday, local election officials across Iowa were able begin the time-consuming work of opening absentee ballots and prepping them to be counted. Actual tabulation of the absentee ballots begins on Nov. 2.

Iowa has already seen record turnout this election, with more voters casting an absentee ballot than ever before. According to the Secretary of State's office, as of Saturday afternoon, election officials had received some 924,000 absentee ballots, out of a total of more than 1 million absentee ballots requested. On Saturday, local election officials across the state were able to begin the work of prepping those absentee ballots to be counted.

On Saturday morning, a couple dozen Linn County election staffers began the work of prepping thousands of absentee ballots to be counted.

Wearing masks and spaced out across two conference rooms at a county office building in Cedar Rapids, the workers were doing things like checking to see that each voter had signed the outer envelope that contains their ballot and separating the outer envelopes.

Others were starting to slice open the ballots, running them through special machines for this purpose, but were not yet tabulating the votes. The actual counting of absentee ballots can begin on Monday Nov. 2.

Behind the workers, large plastic bins, labeled and sealed with zip ties, held more ballots, an indication of how many voters have already taken advantage of the early and absentee voting options that are available before Election Day.

Linn County voters alone are on track to cast 80,000 absentee ballots. County Auditor Joel Miller says that would amount to half of his expected turnout, which he says is remarkable.

“Oh I’m feeling really well. Turnout is through the roof. We’re going to likely have 80,000 absentee ballots to count. That’s a really great problem to have,” Miller said. “We’re pumped up about it.”

This year, due to the historic surge in absentee voting, the Iowa Legislative Council approved a request from Secretary of State Paul Pate granting county auditors an extra day, Saturday Oct. 31, to begin the time-consuming work of prepping and opening the absentee ballots.

While some county auditors in smaller counties have told IPR they didn't think they would need the extra day to prep the absentee ballots, Miller’s office is taking advantage of that time.

“As you can see, we’re starting, we’re opening the ballots, separating them, so forth,” Miller said. “So we are, we’re getting ready for Monday to start the counting and we’ll kick off and get that counted.”

County auditors were not granted extra time to begin the actual counting of absentee ballots. Under Iowa Code, that process can begin Monday, the day before Election Day.

Iowans who have received their absentee ballot but have not yet returned it are encouraged to drop it off at their county auditor's office by 9 p.m. on Election Day, rather than putting it in the mail.

Voters who have requested an absentee ballot but have not yet received one are encouraged to vote in-person, either at an early vote or satellite site, or on Election Day.

More information on how to vote in Iowa in the final days of the election is available here.

Polling places will be open across the state on Tuesday, Nov 3. from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters in line by 9 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Many of the state’s usual polling places have changed and voters who want to cast a ballot in-person on Election Day should first check to see if their location has moved. Click here to find your polling place.

More information on voting in Iowa is available at voterready.iowa.gov.