What to do if you haven't returned your Iowa absentee ballot (2022 edition)

When Iowa Republicans enacted new restrictions on absentee voting in 2021, they increased the risk of voting by mail. At least 150 ballots (and probably more) that Iowans mailed before the June primary election were not counted because they arrived too late.

The latest figures released by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office suggest that more than 35,000 absentee ballots requested for this general election had not reached county auditors by the close of business on November 2. In Polk County alone, 7,636 ballots mailed to voters are still outstanding.

If you have not yet returned your absentee ballot for the November 8 election, do not put it in the mail now. All ballots must arrive at the county auditor’s office by 8:00 pm on election day. Late-arriving ballots will not be counted, regardless of any postmark or barcode on the envelope. Many of the ballots not counted in the June primary were mailed several days before that election.

Here are four options:

1. Find a way to hand-deliver your ballot to your county auditor’s office by 8:00 pm on Tuesday, November 8.

All 99 county auditors will be open during regular business hours through Monday, November 7, and will accept absentee ballots on election day up until 8:00 pm. Some will also have opening hours on Saturday, November 5.

In addition, most county auditor’s offices have a drop box that is accessible around the clock for people to hand-deliver their ballots.

If you don’t drive, ask a friend, relative, or neighbor—any person who might normally help with essential errands—to give you a ride to the county auditor’s office.

For Iowans who are mobile: now is a good time to check in on friends and neighbors to see if they need help returning their ballot by Tuesday evening.

Remember to sign the affidavit envelope before turning in your absentee ballot.

2. If possible under the new law, ask someone to take your ballot to the auditor’s office.

To neutralize successful Democratic “ballot chase” operations, Iowa Republicans made it mostly illegal for volunteers or any non-relative to collect other people’s ballots. The League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit last year challenging these and other new voting restrictions, but the law remains in effect while litigation is pending.

Under a new code section approved on the final day of the 2021 legislative session, most Iowans can have their ballot hand-delivered only by themselves, a person living in the same household, or “an immediate family member,” which is defined as a relative “within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity.” In addition to a parent, child, or sibling, that could include in-laws, cousins, nieces or nephews, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Importantly, it does not include friends, neighbors, or volunteers for a campaign, a church, or an organization like Meals on Wheels. For that reason, when this law was being considered, many groups expressed concern, including the AARP, Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Disability Rights Iowa.

Thousands of Iowans live alone, don’t drive, and have no family nearby. The best option may be to find someone to drive them to the auditor’s office. (Anyone can legally give a voter a ride.) A county employee should be able to come out to collect the ballot curbside.

Iowa’s new code section spells out one other possibility, if the voter is blind or has some physical disability:

A registered voter who is unable to return the registered voter’s own completed absentee ballot due to reason of blindness or any physical disability other than intoxication may designate a delivery agent to return the registered voter’s completed absentee ballot. The registered voter shall complete and sign a designation of delivery agent form prescribed by the state commissioner prior to surrendering a ballot to a delivery agent.

A “delivery agent” can’t be the registered voter’s employer or a representative of the voter’s employer or labor union, or a candidate for office or campaign volunteer. And that agent can’t return “more than two completed absentee ballots per election.”

I have not found any “designation of delivery agent form” on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website page on voting with disabilities. I would be concerned about a ballot being rejected if an Iowan with disabilities attempted to use this option without having an official form. It would be safer to get a ride to the county auditor’s office.

Again, don’t forget to sign the affidavit envelope before turning in your absentee ballot.

3. Vote at your regular polling location on November 8.

For Iowans not living near their county seat town, it may be more practical to find a ride to the precinct on Tuesday. Iowans can find their polling place by using this tool on the Secretary of State’s website or (if they have no internet connection) by calling their county auditor’s office.

Precinct polling locations will be open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on November 8. Although Iowans cannot turn in a completed absentee ballot at a normal polling place, they can “surrender” the ballot there and receive a regular ballot to fill out, with assistance from a precinct worker if needed.

If you forget to bring your unreturned absentee ballot with you on Tuesday, you can still vote, but you will be given a provisional ballot.

Remember to bring some form of valid ID and (if you’ve moved since the last time you voted) proof of address. Acceptable forms of ID:

  • Iowa Driver’s License (not expired more than 90 days)
  • Iowa Non-Operator ID (not expired more than 90 days)
  • U.S. Passport (not expired)
  • U.S. Military ID or Veteran ID (not expired)
  • Iowa Voter Identification Card (must be signed)
  • Tribal ID Card/Document (must be signed, with photo, not expired)

To prove your address, various types of paper or electronic documents are accepted, such as a utility bill, bank statement, pay stub, rental lease agreement, or property tax statement.

4. Send your ballot by overnight mail to your county auditor’s office.

Some Iowans cannot physically get to the county elections office or their regular polling place by November 8. They may attend college in another state, or live in a warmer climate at this time of year.

If you are in this situation, you may still have time to overnight your ballot to the county auditor using the U.S. Postal Service or another mail service. This option will cost some money, but it’s a good investment if you have the cash to spend.

One more time: don’t forget to sign the affidavit envelope before overnighting your ballot.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin