Democrats worry losing straight-party option will cost midterm votes

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- Iowa Democrats are worried a new election rule will cost them votes in what's become a hotly contested midterm election, up and down the ballot.

The chair of the Linn County Democrats, Bret Nilles, said the concern comes over the elimination of straight-party voting on this year's ballots.

About a third of Iowa voters chose the straight-party option on their ballots in 2014, the last midterm election. Three years later, Republicans axed the option in 2017 as part of the new voter ID law.

Nilles believes the GOP was aiming to undercut the impact of hardcore Democrats by encouraging them to undervote down-ballot candidates instead of using the straight party option. He called it disenfranchising.

"I think it's a matter of their belief that a lot of strong Democrats just go in there and mark down the Democratic circle for a straight-party ticket. When they don't have that ability, they have to go through and actually look at each line item. I think they (Republicans) think they might be able to swing a few votes that way."

The Linn County auditor, Joel Miller, said he hasn't heard of any major concerns over the change from voters, yet. But, the former Democrat, now running as a no-party candidate for county supervisor, said he too worries about an increase in undervoting in the wake of the new rule. About 63% of Iowa's voters undervoted in the last midterm, according to data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office.

Miller also felt elimination of straight-party voting would create longer wait times at polling places, come Election Day. Voters intent on participating in each race available to them will now need to comb through their options on a ballot's front and back instead of checking a single box and leaving.

The auditor sent out what's become a somewhat contentious sample ballot to the electorate in hopes of easing the transition to the new rules.

"Iowa, I think, was one of only eight states to still have straight party voting," said Miller. "That's a trend that states are going away from that. It's going to be a surprise to some people that didn't look at the sample ballot and are going to wait until election day and be confused. Like, 'where'd it go?'"

Iowa's GOP chair, Jeff Kaufmann, feels the Democrats' concerns of disenfranchisement are "absolutely ludicrous."

Kaufmann said the new rules promote non-partisan voting and may actually hurt Republicans more than help them.

"The Democrats-- of all the things they could fib about, this is actually ridiculous," Kaufmann said. "If it's going to hurt anybody, it would hurt Republicans because they utilize it more. I guess I have a little more faith in Iowans that they are going to go through and learn a little bit about these candidates."

Election day is fewer than two weeks away, Tuesday, November 6.