Laura Belin

Iowa absentee ballot numbers in the 2020 general election

Early voting won’t begin in Iowa until October 5, but signs already point to a high-turnout election, with many more Iowans casting early ballots than in the past. By September 25, more than five weeks before this year’s election, 583,944 people–more a quarter of Iowa’s 2 million active registered voters–had requested an absentee ballot. That number doesn’t include anyone planning to vote early in person next month.

Just before the 2016 presidential election, 693,709 Iowans had requested absentee ballots, and county auditors had received 653,438 completed ballots. We should surpass that number well before November 3. About 41 percent of Iowans voted early in 2016, but the COVID-19 pandemic will surely push that percentage higher.

I will update this page every weekday with the latest absentee ballot numbers released by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, presented in two tables.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild bergamot (horsemint, bee balm)

Although autumn officially began this week, much of Iowa is experiencing summer-like weather, so I thought it fitting to feature a native plant that typically blooms from June through August. Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) can thrive on disturbed ground near roadsides as well as in high-quality prairie habitats or woodland edges. Also known as horsemint or bee balm, it is native to almost all of the U.S. and Canada.

You can often find wild bergamot growing along bike trails, and it’s a popular plant for restored prairies and butterfly gardens. Minnesota Wildflowers says of this “excellent garden plant,” “The dried leaves and flower heads are wonderfully aromatic; Bergamot oils have been used in natural healing for centuries.” A closely related plant called Oswego tea “was used as a beverage by the Oswego tribe of American Indians and was one of the drinks adopted by American colonists during their boycott of British tea,” according to the Britannica website.

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Corrections department belatedly shows concern for following Iowa law

The Iowa Board of Corrections violated state law in 2019 by failing to send Governor Kim Reynolds a list of individuals qualified to serve as director of the Department of Corrections, a state audit confirmed on September 21.

Department officials assured auditors they would share the findings with the Board of Corrections and advise members of their duties under state law. Spokesperson Cord Overton told Bleeding Heartland on September 22 the department had sent board members a copy of the findings and the relevant code section.

He didn’t explain why the department failed to ensure that the board complied with the statute last year, when Marty Ryan raised concerns with the acting director.

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Only one way for Ernst, Grassley to show respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Jewish new year began in the worst way possible on September 18, with the passing of one of the most influential Jewish Americans. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work as an attorney and over decades of service as a judge, culminating in 27 years on the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley praised Ginsburg’s legacy in written statements, and Ernst offered prayers and an apology of sorts after her campaign sent out a gross fundraising appeal soon after the justice’s death was announced.

But words in a press release have no lasting value. Iowa’s senators have one chance to honor “the notorious RBG”: by letting the voters decide who should appoint her successor.

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Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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