Government

Early voting up despite shortened window

Increase driven by Democrats, who have gubernatorial primary

Marilyn Keister and her son, Don Jr., show their identification and fill out forms Thursday at the Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids so they may vote early. Polls are open Tuesday for primary elections. Iowa’s new voter ID law is being phased in this year, which among other measures shortens the time frame for early voting from 40 to 29 days. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Marilyn Keister and her son, Don Jr., show their identification and fill out forms Thursday at the Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids so they may vote early. Polls are open Tuesday for primary elections. Iowa’s new voter ID law is being phased in this year, which among other measures shortens the time frame for early voting from 40 to 29 days. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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Despite a reduced time frame, Iowans are casting more early votes.

State data shows a shortened early voting period adopted by the GOP-controlled Legislature has not stunted early voting, even as a group announced last week its plan to challenge the voter law in court.

Driven by a surge in early ballots submitted by Iowa Democrats, the number of early votes for the state’s primary election this year has increased by more than 35 percent over the previous non-presidential primary election, in 2014.

One week out from Tuesday’s Election Day, 28,341 early ballots had been submitted or completed in-person by voters, according to data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

That’s 35.5 percent more than the number of early votes submitted one week out from the 2014 primary election.

That increase has occurred despite early voting starting more than a week later this year under recent changes made to the state’s elections laws.

The early voting period in the 2014 primary was between April 24 and June 2, which is 40 days or more than five weeks.

The early voting period in the 2018 primary runs from May 7 through Monday. That is just 29 days, or four weeks.

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Voting rights advocates expressed concern that the shortened time frame would suppress voter turnout. But that apparently has not happened during this period, the first statewide election under the new law.

The Iowa chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens last Wednesday said it filed a lawsuit challenging the new law in Polk County District Court.

Joe Enriquez Henry, national vice president for the Midwest Region for LULAC, said the lawsuit challenges all parts of the law, including the shortened early voting window and a requirement that voters show state-approved identification at the polls.

“It’s going to cut down on the opportunity for a number of people from our community to be able to have their votes counted,” Henry said.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said Iowa’s voting rules are among the most generous in the country.

“Iowa is one of only seven states that offers Election Day voter registration, online voter registration, no-fault absentee voting, and early voting. Our absentee voting period remains one of the longest in the nation, and our polls are open longer on Election Day than every state except New York,” he said in a statement.

The full extent of the new law’s impact likely will not be known until this fall’s general election, one Iowa political scientist said.

That’s because political activists are the most likely to vote in a primary election; general election turnout includes more no-party and casual voters.

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“I think it’s too early to know. I’d want to see what happens in the general election,” said Christopher Larimer, a political-science professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

For now, Democrats are driving the early voting increase in the primary; their early votes have increased 67 percent over the same point in 2014.

Republicans are submitting fewer early ballots: 10 percent fewer than at the same point in 2014.

Daily absentee ballot data in the 2010 midterm election and those prior was not recorded, the Secretary of State’s Office said.

The drop in early Republican voting likely can be attributed in large part to the fact there is no signature race in this year’s GOP primaries.

Gov. Kim Reynolds does not face a primary challenger. There is a five-way Republican race for state agriculture secretary, but only one of the three congressional races features a Republican primary. That’s in the 4th District, where incumbent Rep. Steve King is heavily favored.

By contrast, in 2014 there was a competitive Republican primary race for Iowa’s open seat in the U.S. Senate that captured voters’ attention.

The spike in Democrats’ early voting likely can be attributed to exactly the opposite: Iowa Democrats had no competitive races in the 2014 U.S. Senate or gubernatorial primaries, but this year are observing and voting in a competitive gubernatorial primary.

“In 2014, there were two uncontested primaries in the governor’s race and an uncontested primary in the Democratic Senate race. Joni Ernst won a contested Republican primary for the open Senate seat. That will affect numbers,” said Arthur Sanders, a political-science professor at Drake University.

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The Democrats’ spike also could be partially attributed to excitement among the party’s voters and perhaps a more concerted effort by the gubernatorial campaigns to persuade supporters to vote early, Larimer said.

Iowa’s primary Election Day is Tuesday.

Voters may cast early ballots, either in person at an auditor’s office or via mail, until Monday.

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