|The data in this table come from the statewide statistical reports, which you can download as pdf files on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State's website.
||total Democratic vote
||Democrats voting early
||total Republican vote
||Republicans voting early
||total no-party vote
||no-party voting early
Absentee ballots requested by Iowa voters as of October 31, 2012
Absentee ballots received by Iowa county auditors as of October 31, 2012
Note: Iowa Democrats lead Republicans in absentee ballot requests by more than 82,000, but lead in absentee ballot returns by just under 62,000.
The Democratic ballot return rate is 83 percent, while the Republican return rate is 86 percent and the no-party return rate is 77 percent.
Iowa polls continue to suggest that President Barack Obama has a commanding lead over Mitt Romney among early voters. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows Obama leading by 62 percent to 35 percent among the "45 percent of respondents say they have already voted early or plan to do so." The latest Public Policy Polling survey puts the president's lead at 64 percent to 35 percent among respondents who said they've already voted.
The absentee ballot totals don't reflect such a commanding advantage for Iowa Democrats, so either the polls are wrong, or most of the no-party absentee voters are backing Obama.
The Secretary of State's website answers frequently-asked questions about absentee ballots and election-day voting. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and Attorney General Tom Miller released this reminder about absentee ballot laws and deadlines on November 1 (excerpt):
Any registered voter may vote at their county auditor's office or at any satellite voting station through Monday. County auditor offices are also open Saturday, November 3 from 9AM-5PM in all 99 counties.
Registered voters who plan to request an absentee ballot must deliver the absentee ballot request by mail, fax, or email to their county auditor by 5 p.m. on Friday. If a voter emails or faxes their application, they must ensure the county auditor receives their original signed request form by 5 p.m. on Friday, or it must be postmarked by that same deadline and received by the auditor's office no later than 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
Once an absentee voter fills out their ballot, they can mail or deliver the ballot in the sealed return envelope to their county auditor's office. The sealed envelope must be received in the county auditor's office by 9 p.m. Tuesday. If voters mail the sealed return envelopes, they must be postmarked (by an authorized postal service) by Monday, November 5 and the auditor's office must receive the mailed ballot by noon on Tuesday, November 13.
A voter who received an absentee ballot and then decides to cast their vote at the polling place instead of voting absentee, loses their absentee ballot, or misses the absentee ballot return deadline, should keep these procedures in mind:
A voter who received an absentee ballot and misses the return deadline may bring the absentee ballot to the precinct polling place on Election Day, surrender the absentee ballot to precinct officials, and then vote in person.
A voter who received an absentee ballot but lost it may appear at the precinct polling place and, if precinct election officials confirm that the county auditor has not received the absentee ballot, may vote in person.
A voter who requested an absentee ballot by mail but never received the absentee ballot, may appear at the precinct polling place and, if precinct election officials confirm that the county auditor did not receive the absentee ballot, may vote in person.
If precinct election officials are unable to confirm whether an absentee ballot has already been cast, the voter should cast a provisional ballot at the precinct polling place. A provisional ballot is given to a voter whose eligibility is uncertain, and the ballot is counted only after the voter's eligibility has been later verified.
"If anyone is not sure about how to handle their absentee ballot, they should contact their county auditor's office," Schultz said. "Voters can also find voting information on our website at www.sos.iowa.gov, or download our free 'Iowa Secretary of State' app for Android, iPhone, or iPad. Whether you vote absentee or vote at the polls on Election Day, the important thing is to cast your vote."
UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin published a Romney campaign memo on Iowa today. Excerpts:
• Republicans have already turned out 128 percent of our absentee and early voters from four years ago - nine percent more than the Democrats have done.
• Republicans have cut Democrats' historic advantage in in-person early voting by 75 percent. [...]
• The Obama campaign is panicking, and you can see it in the way they are turning out their most reliable, most likely voters long before Election Day. They are using their highest propensity voters to pad their absentee and early vote numbers. Incredibly, half of Iowa Democrats who have voted in all four of the last four general elections have been made to request absentee ballots or vote early by the Obama campaign.
• The upshot is that Republicans have twice as many reliable, high propensity voters available on Election Day. Republicans already have a natural advantage on Election Day - after all, we invented the 72-Hour Program - which will only be larger in 2012 due to our record-shattering volunteer voter contact effort and the Democrats' foolish decision to cannibalize their most reliable voters to pad their early voting figures. [...]
• Republicans are already over-performing their share of absentee and early votes in 86 of Iowa's 99 counties - including critical counties like Black Hawk, Cerro Gordo, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, Marion, Polk, Pottawattamie, Poweshiek, Sioux, Story, Wapello, and Winneshiek.
• Republicans are even over-performing their share of ballots returned in 71 of 99 counties compared to 2004, the first time a Republican candidate carried Iowa in a presidential election since 1984, and are over-performing 2004 statewide.
Rubin makes the key point here: "it is important to remember that simply doing better than 2008 will not be enough for Republicans." No one expects Obama to match his 2008 margin over John McCain in Iowa, but he doesn't need to do so.
Iowa Democrats have indeed encouraged consistent as well as inconsistent voters to cast early ballots. I don't buy the "foolish decision to cannibalize their most reliable voters" line, though. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have also asked Iowans attending their rallies to go vote early. This fall I have listened in on telephone "town halls" during which Romney and Ryan urged listeners to vote early so that they could help get other supporters to the polls later.
SECOND UPDATE: Excerpt from the Democratic National Committee's response to the Romney memo:
[Iowa] Democrats lead Republicans by more than 60 thousand ballots cast - about the same as our margin at this point in 2008, after which we went to win Iowa by 9.5 percentage points.
- Furthermore, in every public poll conducted among Iowans who have voted early, President Obama has a double-digit lead.
- At least one-third of Iowa voters have now cast a ballot in this election. This means that Mitt Romney needs to win 58% of the remaining vote in order to tie Barack Obama
- Democrats are doing a better job turning out sporadic or non-midterm voters, including new registrants, and first-time 2008 voters who have now voted early in 2012. 25% of Democratic early voters are non-midterm voters, compared to just 18% of Republican early voters
- Democrats have out-registered Republicans 7 to 1 in the past 3 months, and we continue to build our registration advantage every day from now through election day as new voters register and vote at early voting locations all over the state