Auditor's Office Still Waiting on Thousands of Absentee Ballots

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Linn County leaders are pleading with voters to return absentee ballots with just days before the election.

The auditor's office is shuffling through hundreds of absentee ballots as people vote in person or return them by mail. Elections workers, however, said there aren't enough. Data from the auditor's office show only 32,489 of the 43,868 absentee ballots had come back, as of Monday. That leaves more than 11,000 that voters still need to return.

"We're really trying to encourage people now, that if you have a ballot sitting on your kitchen counter, please vote and return it to our office," Linn County Deputy Commissioner of Elections Tim Box said.

Election workers said they had seen huge numbers of absentee voters. The number of absentee ballots for 2012 has already surpassed the last presidential election. According to information on the Iowa Secretary of State's website, 38,257 absentee ballots were processed in 2008.

County leaders said the reason behind the increase is the campaigns' push to get people out to vote. Extra satellite voting locations and hours also contributed. Training is underway at county offices to deal with the absentee ballot situation if it doesn't resolve itself by Election Day.

"We've had a large amount of absentee requests for this election which is kind of unheard of for this county since they've been around, and what we're trying to do is make sure our poll workers know how to handle if someone comes in to vote who has not brought in their ballot," Linn County Elections Systems Administrator Tim Larson said.

The auditor's office is asking people to bring the absentee ballots with them on Election Day to surrender, if they haven't already turned them in. Then, that person can vote normally. Voters, however, still have the rest of the week to get those in. Absentee ballots must be post marked by Monday to count in this election.

Despite the frustrations surrounding the absentee ballots, Box said the surge in early voting could be good news for those waiting to make their selections on Tuesday.

"We're hoping all this early voting will lessen lines on Election Day, but this is such a huge election, this is such a swing state. We anticipate a high turnout on election day also," Box said.

Election officials said they are ready for Nov. 6, but surprises have happened before.

"I feel for the people on the Eastern Coast right now who are looking at a hurricane and all the havoc that's going to cost for an election day. We are very fortunate not to be in that situation but we've encountered on different elections throughout the last couple of years, floods, tornado warnings, power outages we've seen just about everything," Box said.

"It's not like a fairy comes in and waves a wand and everything happens. It's very precise, very exact, lots of procedures in place, lots of security measures to make sure the ballots are secure," First-Time Election Worker Kate Ulmer said.

Overall, the auditor's office said it expects to see an 80 percent voter turnout once this election is all said and done. In 2008, Linn County had about a 77 percent voter turnout.
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