Elections

40 days of early voting underway in Iowa

Secretary of State: 'Iowans step up on elections'

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller after Pate voted on the first day of early voting at the Linn County Community Services building in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Due to displacement because of the flood evacuation early voting will continue at the Community Services building at 1240 26th Ave CT SW through Friday. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller after Pate voted on the first day of early voting at the Linn County Community Services building in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Due to displacement because of the flood evacuation early voting will continue at the Community Services building at 1240 26th Ave CT SW through Friday. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After months of being on the receiving end of calls, campaign speeches, rallies and advertisements, voters are getting their turn.

Forty days of early voting started Thursday and it didn’t take long for voters to respond. Auditors in Linn and Johnson counties reported hundreds of voters cast their ballots by the end of the day.

The Johnson County Auditor’s Office reported nearly 1,000 voters by 4:30 p.m. In Linn County, 135 people voted in person and 1,024 ballots were received in the mail.

Despite the brisk activity Thursday, Secretary of State Paul Pate and county auditors say the number of requests for absentee or early ballots is well below four years ago.

Four years ago, his the Secretary of State Office had received more than 203,000 ballot requests compared to 128,748 through Thursday afternoon.

However, Pate expects voter turnout will be similar to 2012.

“It will be typical,” Pate said after casting his vote at the Linn County Auditor’s Office — temporarily relocated to the community Service Building, 1240 26th Ave. Ct. SW, Cedar Rapids — Thursday morning. In 2012, 73 percent or 1,589,899 of Iowa’s 2,166,539 registered voters cast ballots in the presidential election.

Pate, who lives in Cedar Rapids, planned to vote Thursday, but said “it’s especially important to show Eastern Iowans that the flooding will not get in the way of voting.”

Pate expects statewide turnout will be in the 70 percent range again this year.

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“Iowans are pretty loyal and committed,” he said, adding that 84 percent of Iowans eligible to vote are registered. “Look at our history. Iowans step up on elections. We always have good turnout.”

In Linn County, Auditor Joel Miller is projecting 78 percent turnout, but like Pate, he said requests for early voting are down significantly from four years ago. So far, he’s received about 7,000 fewer requests than in 2012.

That suggests to him voters are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“They’re waiting to see what happens next, but I think when it gets down to it, they’ll vote,” he said.

In Johnson County, Auditor Travis Weipert requests are down from nearly 10,400 in 2012 to about 6,000 Thursday. Weipert said Johnson County Democrats and Republicans are starting to gear up to send more absentee mailings.

“We are starting to see a little uptick,” said Weipert, whose email inbox was packed with new requests Thursday morning.

If the slow start to early voting means more people voting on Election Day, “get ready for lines,” Miller said.

That might not be the case. Pate expects both Democrats and Republicans to ramp up their early voting efforts shortly. The Democratic Party delayed its push until mid-September and the GOP has yet to do a statewide mailing to get party members to vote early.

Democrats said they learned from 2012 and 2014 that if they start too early some people forget to fill out and return their ballots. Nearly 25,000 Democratic ballot requests went unreturned in 2012.

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“We’re not concerned that the number of requests are down,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire said. “It’s the number of votes that matters and we want to make sure those absentee ballots turn into votes.”

Democrats also are more focused on encouraging early in-person voting because it takes fewer campaign resources than repeatedly contacting people to gather absentee ballots.

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann thinks Democrats’ lower numbers may reflect lower enthusiasm.

“Enthusiasm is something you can’t manufacture,” he said Thursday. “They have an enthusiasm problem. It is a huge problem and I don’t see that going away, especially not here in Iowa.

“We’re right where we want to be,” Kaufmann said about the GOP’s early voting effort that paid dividends in 2014.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was in Des Moines Thursday for a rally highlighting early voting and in Iowa City her campaign attempted to boost the early-voting turnout with Sean Austin — an actor known for his roles in The Goonies, Rudy, and The Lord of the Rings — leading a walk from The Java House to the public library to cast early ballots.

Linn County early voting will continue at the Community Services Building through 5 p.m. Friday. The Auditor’s Office will reopen in the Jean Oxley Public Service Building, 935 2nd St. SW, at 8 a.m. Monday.

Miller also reported that an Ohio contractor that mailed early ballots to some Linn County voters without instructions has mailed the instructions — at its cost — to those affected voters.

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For more on early voting, visit http://www.linncounty.org/157/Election-Services, http://www.johnson-county.com/dept_auditor.aspx?id=12195 and https://sos.iowa.gov/.

Rod Boshart in Des Moines and Vanessa Miller in Iowa City contributed to this story

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