What to do if you haven't returned your Iowa absentee ballot

Nearly 450,000 Iowans have already voted in the 2018 general election, according to figures the Iowa Secretary of State's office released on November 2. Early voting is on track to far exceed the number of Iowans who cast ballots before election day in 2014. But as of Friday, county auditors had not yet received some 82,000 absentee ballots mailed to Iowa voters this fall.

If you're among the roughly 35,000 Iowa Democrats, 25,000 Republicans, or 22,000 no-party voters who have not yet returned their absentee ballots, you still have time. But don't simply drop the ballot in the mail if you want to guarantee your vote will count. Here are your options:

Hand-deliver to your county auditor's office.

All 99 county auditor's offices will be open for in-person early voting on Saturday, November 3 and Monday, November 5 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Iowans can turn in completed absentee ballots during those times, or hand-deliver to the county auditor on Tuesday, November 6 between 7:00 am and 9:00 pm (though I advise not leaving it so late).

If you can't get to your county auditor's office, a friend or volunteer can hand-deliver your ballot. Contact a candidate or local party organization in your area for help, and seal all envelopes before handing over your ballot.

Mail at a post office, requesting a postmark.

Absentee ballots arriving at the county auditor's office after November 6 can be counted only if they are postmarked on November 5 or earlier. Post offices do not routinely put a postmark on envelopes anymore. Hundreds of ballots have gone uncounted in past Iowa elections because they arrived late with no postmark.

For that reason, please do not drop your ballot in a regular mailbox at this point. Instead, if you can't hand-deliver to the county auditor, take the ballot to a post office and ask the person at the counter to affix a postmark.

After mailing your absentee ballot, you can use this tracking feature on the secretary of state's website to confirm it arrived at the county auditor's office.

Surrender your absentee ballot at your regular polling place on November 6.

I don't recommend this option, because it means volunteers will likely waste time over the next few days calling or knocking on your door, begging you to return your absentee ballot. However, if you have decided you want to vote on election day rather than by absentee ballot, you have that right.

Be warned: you cannot drop off a completed absentee ballot at your regular polling place on November 6. You will need to hand over your absentee ballot and receive a regular ballot to mark like any other election-day voter.

If you forget to bring the absentee ballot with you on Tuesday, you will be required to vote with a provisional ballot to ensure you don't vote twice. As long as you didn't mail in your absentee ballot, the provisional ballot should be counted later.

However you plan to return your absentee ballot, make sure you follow all instructions when filling it out. In particular:

  • Fill in each target completely next to candidates you support; don't just make an "X" or check mark. A black ink pen is recommended, but ballots marked with pencils or other color ink will be counted.
  • Seal your completed ballot inside the secrecy envelope.
  • Place the secrecy envelop inside the affidavit envelope and remember to sign and seal the affidavit envelope.
  • Do not cross out or erase marks on your ballot. If you make a mistake while filling in your absentee ballot, you can bring it to your county auditor's office on Saturday, November 3 or Monday, November 5, surrender it, and vote in person with a fresh ballot. You cannot vote in person at the county auditor's office on election day. You will have to surrender your spoiled absentee ballot at your regular polling place, then vote with a regular ballot.

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