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Woodbury County sees a drop in absentee ballot requests ahead of early voting

Pat Gill stands in a suit behind three microphones in the Woodbury County Courthouse.
Kendall Crawford
Woodbury County auditor Pat Gill urged residents to consider voting early at a press conference on Monday.

Woodbury County is reporting a decline in requests for absentee ballots, a little more than a week before early voting begins in Iowa.

County auditor Pat Gill attributes the drop to changes in state voting laws that went into effect last year. In 2021, the Iowa legislature passed an election security law that prohibits county auditors from sending absentee ballot forms to voters who did not request them.

Gill is concerned that this could impact turnout in his northwest Iowa county. He said his office has only received 3,500 ballot requests to date.

“It really impacts the elderly and the disabled,” Gill said. “They're the ones that are very disappointed. Frankly, we get an earful when we can’t send them to them. It doesn’t make sense to them. It doesn’t make sense to me either.”

In prior years, Gill said absentee and early voting has made up a large portion of voter turnout. In the 2018 midterm election, 16,000 residents voted early, out of the around 36,000 votes cast.

Absentee ballots now also must arrive before polls close on Election Day in order to be counted, according to the law enacted in 2021. In past years, ballots needed to be postmarked by election day and could arrive a few days later.

This presents voters with a shorter timeline to turn in their ballots. Ballots will be mailed to voters who have requested them on the first day of early voting, Oct. 19.

“We want folks to get them turned around and get them back to us as soon as they can, so they won't have any issue with them not being counted,” Gill said.

This midterm election will be the first with a slightly shortened early voting period. Last year, the Iowa legislature reduced the period from 29 days to 20 days.

Gill said voters should take advantage of early voting in order to reduce pressure on polling places on Election Day.

“We're trying to educate people to make sure that they know how they're going to be able to participate in this election,” Gill said.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.