As of August 30, Iowans can submit absentee ballot request forms to their county auditors for the November 8 election.
But Republicans have substantially changed Iowa's voting laws since the last general election. So even if you've voted by mail before, I would encourage you to make different plans to cast your ballot this year.
Why avoid the mail?
A law enacted in early 2021 restricted every aspect of early voting. Iowans can start requesting absentee ballots 70 days before the election, but the first day county auditors can mail ballots to voters is October 19 (just 20 days before the election).
Years ago, auditors could begin mailing ballots 40 days before Iowa elections. That left plenty of time to deal with errors. If you make any mistake filling out your absentee ballot this year, it will probably be too late for your county auditor to send a replacement ballot to you. (The last day they can mail a ballot is October 24, fifteen days before the election.)
Whereas Iowa law used to allow late-arriving absentee ballots to be counted if they were postmarked before election day, current law requires all ballots to arrive at the county auditor's office by 8:00 pm on November 8. (Exceptions apply to a small number of voters, such as active duty military.)
Bleeding Heartland's review of data provided by county auditors showed that at least 150 Iowans who mailed their absentee ballots before the June 2022 primary election did not have their votes counted, because the ballots arrived late. The majority of voters disenfranchised in this way were trying to vote in the Republican primary.
Those who live outside large cities tend to have slower mail delivery, and are therefore at greater risk of having their absentee ballots tossed for this reason.
Previous Iowa law allowed friends, neighbors, or volunteers to pick up and deliver completed absentee ballots to the county auditor's office. Under the law Republicans enacted in 2021, only the voter, someone living in the same household, or an immediate family member to the fourth degree of consanguinity can collect and return a completed absentee ballot for most Iowans. (Blind or physically disabled voters can designate someone else to return their ballot.) The restrictions on delivering ballots are being challenged in court but remain in effect.
Voting early in person is less risky
All 99 county auditors' offices will offer early in-person voting beginning on October 19, and will provide that opportunity during business hours every weekday through Monday, November 7.
Some county auditors will also provide Saturday voting hours, or satellite locations like public libraries and community centers, where voters can request and fill out an absentee ballot on the spot. A few weeks before early voting begins, check with your county auditor about where and when alternate voting locations will be open.
If you live in Iowa and will be here between October 19 and November 7, I would encourage you to think creatively about finding a way to vote in person this year. Even if you are not mobile, perhaps there is someone who occasionally takes you to doctor's appointments, or runs errands. Schedule a day for that person to pick you up and take you to the county elections office to cast a ballot.
County auditor's offices have accessible ballot marking devices for those who need help to fill out their ballots.
Important note: when you vote early in person, you must fill out your ballot and submit it right there; you can't take it home to review later. So research the races in your area (including any county-level offices) ahead of time.
If you need to vote by mail
Some Iowans have no alternative to voting by mail. They may attend college out of state, or spend part of the year in a warmer location.
To maximize the chance of your vote being counted, request your ballot well in advance of the October 24 deadline for submitting an absentee ballot request form. You want your county auditor to process your request in time to mail your ballot on October 19.
If you have access to the internet and a printer, you can download an absentee ballot request form from the Iowa Secretary of State's website right now. Mail or hand-deliver it to your county elections office.
If you can't print out your own absentee ballot request form, call or email your county auditor's office and ask them to send you one.
Some county auditors used to mail the forms to all registered voters in their jurisdictions. But Iowa Republicans outlawed that practice in 2021, for no good reason. Now auditors are prohibited from sending an absentee ballot request form to anyone who doesn't specifically ask for one.
The Linn County elections office provided this helpful advice in a Faceboook post: "If you will be away from home, please remember to include the address 'where your ballot should be mailed' -- where it will reach you however long after October 19th mail sent on that date is likely to arrive there."
If you live in Iowa and request an absentee ballot to your home address, try to complete it quickly and hand-deliver it to your county auditor, or put it in the mail well in advance of election day.
If you are living in another part of the country, fill out the absentee ballot as soon as possible after you receive it. You may want to spend a little extra to overnight the envelope back to your county auditor, or send it by priority mail.
Be careful not to make any mistakes when filling out your absentee ballot. If you cross out or erase any marks, forget to sign the affidavit envelope, or forget to seal the secrecy envelope, your vote will not be counted, and it will probably be too late for a replacement ballot to reach you.
Final note: the Republican Party of Iowa sent out an email blast on August 30 encouraging voters to "request a Safe and Legal Absentee Ballot!" There was no mention of the many new barriers GOP lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds recently created for Iowans who prefer to vote by mail. Based on what happened in June, I expect thousands of ballots to arrive too late to be counted this November—many of them sent by Republicans who live in rural Iowa.
Top graphic posted on the Linn County Elections office Facebook page on August 30.