116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - Election Day is Tuesday.
Iowans who have listened to countless campaign speeches and sat through hours of mind-numbing attack ads finally will get their say - although a record 40 percent or so of eligible voters already have lodged their choices by absentee ballots or early-voting options.
Voters who prefer the old-school method of casting ballots in person on Election Day may see some changes at their polling places as state and county election officials take extra measures to avoid lines and provide a safe place for Iowans to congregate amid a pandemic.
There are 1,681 precincts and about 1,200 polling places around Iowa this election.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said more than 10,000 poll workers were recruited to beef up the Election Day workforce to accommodate Iowans who are expected to show up Tuesday to pick a president, a U.S. senator, four members of Congress, 125 state legislators and numerous local races, as well as pass judgment on a slate of judges and decide whether to authorize a state constitutional convention.
Iowa has 2,056,085 active registered voters, with an expectation by Pate's office that up to 75 percent or more of those will participate. Records at the Secretary of State's office show Iowa's highest turnout in terms of total voters was 1,589,951 in the 2012 general election, followed by 1,581,371 in 2016.
Here's Pate's perspective on a number of election-related topics:
Q: As Iowa's commissioner of elections, assess the general election process heading into Tuesday's in-person balloting.
A: 'I think we're prepared. We anticipating a lot of what we're encountering. We had a good opportunity during the primary to see what we were going to be faced with, so I think working with the county auditors and all of our other partners, we've put the resources in place and everything is on track.”
Q: How safe can Iowans feel going to the polls in the midst of a pandemic? What steps have you instructed county auditors to take in ensure Iowans' safety or are you leaving that up to local officials?
A: 'I think Iowans should feel very good about the safety component. The fact that we've taken the measures to put personal protective equipment in place, preparing the voting centers to make sure they are clean and safe, the fact that we have recruited a lot of new poll workers so that we have enough staffing so that we can avoid having any kind of a line and, ultimately, the fact that we promoted aggressively voting absentee and we've see such a huge turnout - I think that reduces the line component as well. Also the other measures - the curbside voting - all these combined together give the voters the safest environment. We hope for the best but we have to plan for the worst when we do elections. Do we want lines? No. But if we're going to have to encounter them, we want to make sure that they're as safe as possible. So the measures of safe distancing, trying to expedite voting as fast as possible with the e-poll books that we use, the fact that we've encouraged voters to prepare for coming to vote by making sure their voter registrations are up to date and make sure that they have their necessary voter identification so the timing isn't long.”
Q: Are you mandating that Iowans wear masks when they show up at polling places Tuesday?
A: 'No. We cannot do that under our authority.”
Q: Iowa has seen record absentee voting requests. Will that high volume of absentee ballots speed up election night results or not necessarily?
A: 'I think it will be about the same. We will have the absentees counted well before the closing of the polls on Tuesday. I would say safely that we're not looking at a late night of trying to bring in numbers, but I caution people on voting results. These are preliminary numbers. We'll have to do our canvass, we'll have to do our postelection audits and we'll have some straggler votes coming in through the mail. But we'll have a good sense of how the population has voted. I think we could see some very close elections based on what the media is reporting. When we have close elections, I think we want to be very careful that we're accurate. The accuracy is so crucial in this election.”
Q: The safety and security of voting has come under fire from President Donald Trump and others. How do you view Iowa's voting system in this 2020 environment and what are the prospects for fraud in Iowa?
A: 'I believe we've got a lot of checks and balances and we also have the transparency to try to overcome many of those sets of feelings that people might be carrying. We've had a good record in the past and we will carry it forward. When you're requesting your absentee ballot, you can track it online. There's no question then about did the mail service not get it there, you know that. That's our goal at the end of the night: to get people to understand that those results - whether your candidate won or not - are accurate and they reflect the vote of Iowans.”
Q: Is there a concern regarding the postal system in Iowa and whether ballots will show up in a timely fashion both from in state and outside of Iowa?
A: 'That's a story that kind of grew its own legs early on and a frustrating one. We have a good working relationship with the Postal Service here in Iowa. They have one of the better ratings of service in the country. We've had no issues with them in the past. I am very comfortable and confident in that process.”
Q: There's been a lot of talk about efforts by outsiders or foreign actors to influence the U.S. election. Has there been any indication of that in Iowa that your office has been able to detect?
A: 'We are concerned about it because on a national basis we've gotten quite a few reports of this. We're made aware of it on a somewhat regular basis sadly so we have to be on the lookout for it. We have not, to my knowledge, had anything come to our attention about the targeting of Iowans at this time.” Pate said Iowa has partnered with federal, local and private agencies to bolster cybersecurity and Iowa's paper-ballot system also is an extra protection. 'It requires a lot of work and we've doubled down on it. As quick as we come up with something, there's always a bad actor out there trying to overcome it.”
Q: Earlier this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order enabling some felons in Iowa to get their voting rights restored. Do you know how many felons were able to get their rights restored and how many potential voters were not?
A: About 35,000 felons had their rights restored, but as of last week less than 3,000 had registered to vote on Tuesday, according to Pate's office, 'I'm not aware of any potential voter than we did not help them get back on track,” he added.
Q: Your office spent a fair amount of time updating the felon voting information. Is everything up to date or are there still gaps in the data?
A: 'It's up to date. We feel pretty positive about the system that we've put in place. This is a second chance for these people and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to give them that opportunity to be a voter.”
Q: It was not an official election function since the caucuses are political party functions, but the 2020 outcome for Democrats was a disaster. What's your worst nightmare and are you prepared for it?
A: 'We've spent so much time preparing for bad things that it's pretty hard to shock or surprise us. You don't want them to happen, of course, but I don't anticipate any major thing other than please avoid a snow blizzard in Iowa at this time. I think we've got a plan for everything that comes up.”
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