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Election Officials: Iowans Who Requested A Mail-In Ballot Early Should Not Vote In Person This Week

Election officials say Iowans who requested a ballot by mail before this Monday should avoid attending in-person early voting this week and instead wait a few more days for their ballot to arrive.
Election officials say Iowans who requested a ballot by mail before this Monday should avoid attending in-person early voting this week and instead wait a few more days for their ballot to arrive.

Some Iowans who requested absentee ballots in the mail are instead showing up to vote in person in the first days of early voting, causing headaches for county election officials and longer wait times at some early voting sites.

Election officials say Iowans who requested a ballot by mail before this Monday should avoid attending in-person early voting this week and instead wait a few more days for their ballot to arrive. County auditors started mailing absentee ballots to Iowa voters on Monday.

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According to the Johnson County auditor’s office, 168 of the 793 people at their drive-up voting site on the first day of early voting were canceling a mailed ballot, which led to longer wait times.

In Clay County, Auditor Marjorie Pitts turned away two voters Monday who had requested absentee ballots and not yet received them, a situation that came to Iowa Public Radio’s attention through the Electionland reporting collaboration.

“We have a ballot inventory we have to be careful about,” Pitts said, adding it’s a voter’s responsibility to bring their unvoted ballot back to their county auditor if they decide to switch to in-person voting.

Iowans who requested a ballot by mail have a legal right to vote in person, and they should bring the blank ballot they got in the mail with them and turn it in to election officials. Election officials can cancel the original ballot and provide a new one.

Those who are changing their mind and voting in person before their ballot has a chance to arrive in the mail have to sign a declaration that says the original ballot was lost or never arrived, and says the voter will return the original ballot to the county auditor if they find it.

“In the context of voters who have requested absentee ballots by mail and then appear in the auditor’s office within 2-5 mail days after their initial ballot was sent, the voter will need to decide if they can truthfully sign the statement,” said Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Iowa Secretary of State. “Based on our conversations with the USPS, most absentee ballots will be delivered to voters within 2-5 mail days of being mailed by the county auditor.”

For voters who requested an absentee ballot before Oct. 5, the secretary of state’s office recommends waiting until Monday, Oct. 12 to try to vote in person if the voter changes their mind.

“This allows for sufficient time for the ballot to reach the voter,” Hall said.

Election officials say switching from mail voting to in-person voting is much more reasonable as it gets closer to Election Day, when there may be less time to wait for mail.

But doing so this far ahead of Election Day doesn’t really change anything for the voter, except to potentially slow down the in-person voting process.

Voters who requested an absentee ballot by mail before Oct. 5 will most likely receive their ballot this week. That leaves a few weeks for them to vote the ballot and return it by mail, or deliver it themselves to their county auditor’s office. Some counties also have a ballot dropbox outside the elections office.

Ballots voted early in person and by mail all start getting counted at the same time—the day before Election Day.

“If you vote early in person, you will not be putting your ballot into a ballot reader,” the Johnson County auditor’s office said in a statement. “It will go into an envelope and into a secure storage area until the Absentee Board meets.”

Voters who did not request an absentee ballot by mail can still do so until Oct. 24. Early in-person voting is available through Nov. 2, or Iowans may vote in person on Election Day.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter