Iowans' Absentee Ballots Could Have the Whole World Waiting

By Steve Gravelle, Reporter

First time voter Caroline Dvorsky of Coralville, casts her votes on the first day of early voting Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)


By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The contest for leader of the (nominally) Free World comes down to a handful of swing states, then down to hotly-contested Iowa, then down to a handful of tight counties.

And America waits. For a week.

"They keep talking about a 2,000-vote margin for the presidential race across the state," said Linn County Auditor Joel Miller. "Linn County could have 3,000 ballots out."

"Don't say that," said Chad Olsen, spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

With a significant share of absentee ballots still unreturned in a year that saw a high volume of requests for them, it remains at least a mathematical possibility.

"That troubles me, that that margin of difference could be in those absentee ballots that never came back," Miller told county supervisors this morning.

Through Tuesday, about 130,000 of 660,000 requested absentee ballots statewide remained out, Olsen said. In Linn County, Miller said he's received 37,518 of 47,538 absentee ballots, or 79 percent of those mailed to voters since late September.

Johnson County voters had returned 84 percent of 39,738 absentee ballots requested by Wednesday afternoon. Benton County reported 83 percent returned of 4,310 requested, Jones County 83 percent of 3,894, and Dubuque County 76 percent of 24,770.

"This gap is significant," Miller said. "We could have 3,000 ballots in Linn County that never come back."

Linn County's unreturned ballots would be more than the winning margins in two supervisors' races and a state House race in 2008, when Barack Obama won Iowa by 140,732, or 9.3 percent of just over 1.5 million votes cast.

With polls showing the presidential race in Iowa within a few points or less, provisional ballots could make the difference. They're not counted until the official canvass Nov. 13.

Voters who requested absentee ballots but decide to vote in person will cast provisional ballots, used to record a vote when there are questions about a voter's eligibility.

A provisional ballot becomes official and is counted when those questions are answered.

The county elections board starts counting provisional ballots two days after the election. The board's volunteers also compare provisional voters against the absentee ballot list. That will eliminate some unreturned absentees from the pool of uncounted ballots, but ballots mailed by 5 p.m. Monday have until noon canvassing day to arrive at auditors' offices.

To ensure their absentee ballots are counted, voters need to make sure they're postmarked. Absentee ballots are business mail, which doesn't receive a date stamp, so voters should request a hand-stamped envelope, Olsen and Miller said.

"There’s no guarantee the post office is going to stamp that envelope, and if you’re returning it Friday or later you better stand there and ask" for a hand cancellation, Olsen said.

Miller said his office has received about 1,000 absentee ballots a day lately. Olsen said returns are running about 30,000 a day statewide.

But "we never hit 100 percent (returned ballots)," Olsen said. "There’s always a gap."

Unreturned absentees usually run 7 to 10 percent once turns are official, Olsen said - enough to leave a losing candidate wondering what might have been.

Conversation Guidelines

Be Kind

Don't use abusive, offensive, threatening, racist, vulgar or sexually-oriented language.
Don't attack someone personally. Keep it civil and be responsible.

Share Knowledge

Be truthful. Share what you know and what you are passionate about.
What more do you want to learn? Keep it simple.

Stay focused

Promote lively and healthy debate. Stay on topic. Ask questions and give feedback on the story's topic.

Report Trouble

Help us maintain a quality comment section by reporting comments that are offensive. If you see a comment that is offensive, or you feel violates our guidelines, simply click on the "x" to the far right of the comment to report it.

read the full guidelines here »

Commenting will be disabled on stories dealing with the following subject matter: Crime, sexual abuse, property fires, automobile accidents, Amber Alerts, Operation Quickfinds and suicides.

facebook twitter rss mobile google plus
email alerts you tube hooplanow pinterest instagram

What's On KCRG