Cautionary note for early Iowa voters

A growing proportion of Iowans have chosen to vote early during the last few election cycles. During the 2012 presidential election, 43.2 percent of Iowans who participated cast early ballots. In yesterday’s Des Moines Register, Jason Noble highlighted a problem that has and will continue to nullify the votes of some of them: missing postmarks on ballots that arrive after the general election. Post offices do not always postmark envelopes without a stamp. That’s not a problem when county auditors receive mailed absentee ballots before election day, but current Iowa rules instruct auditors to throw out ballots that arrive late, unless a postmark proves they were mailed on or before the day before the election.

Iowa lawmakers discussed several ideas for addressing the problem, but lack of consensus led them to drop the issue this year. After the jump I’ve posted an excerpt from Noble’s piece.

As things stand, Iowans who plan to vote early either in the 2014 primary or general elections can do a few things to make sure their votes count:

1. Mail in your absentee ballot well before election day, to ensure that it arrives on time.

2. Hand-deliver your absentee ballot to your county auditor’s office.

3. Place a stamp on your absentee ballot envelope, so that the post office will have to put a postmark on it.

4. Vote early in person, either at the county auditor’s office or (for the general election) at a satellite location. I prefer this option, because I know for sure that my ballot got to the right place on time. If you take this route, I recommend reviewing a sample ballot online first, so that you have time to research ballot initiatives and candidates for more obscure offices.  

From Jason Noble’s article for the April 14 Des Moines Register:

[Clinton County Auditor Eric] Van Lancker and the county auditors have proposed a “sure-count deadline” requiring all absentee votes by mail to be received on or before Election Day. That would disqualify all votes received after Election Day, but give voters a clear deadline that wasn’t reliant on a postmark from the post office.

[Iowa House Democrat Cindy] Winckler, the Davenport legislator, meanwhile, proposed rewriting state law to codify the tossed-out rule – that is, allowing election officials to open ballots received after Election Day and count those with affidavits dated before Election Day.

A third idea – floated by state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo – would allow officials to count votes-by-mail within a more limited window after Election Day regardless of whether they had a postmark.

Over several weeks of discussion, no consensus emerged among the options, said state Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights.

“It just kind of highlighted the fact that there isn’t a truly clean, consensus way to solve this problem, unfortunately,” Hagenow said of the competing proposals. “But I do believe a good-faith effort was made by all parties to try and find something.” […]

Danielson said he would ask legislative leaders to establish an interim committee to study the postmark issue and other elections concerns later this year, with a goal of developing bipartisan proposals for the 2015 session.

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