116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and do not represent the views or opinions of the Linn County Auditor’s Office.
In late September of 2020, several dozen people arrived at the elections office at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids to begin training as early voting workers for the 2020 election. Some of them had served as “PEOs,” or precinct election officials, for decades. Some had never worked an election before but were well-qualified and looking for temporary work.
All of them were eager to take up the monumental task in front of them: operating a monthlong early voting site during a time of extremely strong political sentiment. They also did it during a pandemic, with no vaccine yet in sight.
They worked busily in a shopping mall food court and a large vehicle storage garage, sitting six feet apart behind rows of folding tables. They wore masks for hours at a time, sometimes adding safety glasses or face shields. Some of them worked in specialty roles, assisting those who needed to change their address or register for the first time. They took special care to congratulate first-time voters, especially those who were newly eligible under the governor’s executive order restoring voting rights for many with previous felony convictions.
Some of the workers wore reflective vests and served voters curbside at their vehicles, amassing many thousands of steps daily on their activity trackers. Some served as “cleaners,” diligently sanitizing every table and booth in between each use.
They formed bipartisan teams to escort secured items with a proper chain of custody. They kept long lines moving, making sure that every eligible voter who arrived before the close of business received a ballot. They committed to full-time hours and served over 1400 voters on their busiest day. As one of their leaders, I was in awe of the dedication those workers showed to the process of efficiently operating a polling place.
Almost a year after that intense and at times exhausting election cycle, a number of those early voting workers have taken that dedication a step further. They’ve returned to serve you again.
I’ve also signed on to return to my temporary role as a team leader, working as part of a bipartisan duo to help guide operations at an early voting location. I would love for you to come participate in the process of early voting and cast your ballot for the upcoming city and school board elections.
Like last year, in-person early voting will be held at two locations, beginning on Wednesday, Oct. 13. Voters can cast ballots at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re also returning to Lindale Mall, this time operating at the east end of the building between the kids’ play area and the old Sears store. Voting will be open seven days a week at Lindale, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Curbside voting will be available at both locations for anyone unable to enter the building due to a disability.
All eligible Linn County voters will be able to cast their ballot at early voting locations. Per Iowa law, a valid form of identification will be required. While many show their Iowa driver’s license or their U.S. passport, certain additional types of ID qualify as well. Voters can visit the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.iowa.gov for a complete list of acceptable types of photo ID. Early voting locations will have that same list of acceptable IDs posted in a visible location, along with other important information and a sample ballot, just like at your local Election Day polling place.
In fact, much about in-person early voting is just like your Election Day polling place. Workers set up the same booths and table dividers so voters can take their time and focus on their ballots privately. Just as with Election Day voting, all balloting is done on paper.
Also like on Election Day, in-person early voting adheres to exact standards of accommodation required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These standards go beyond parking spaces and wheelchair ramps — every potential location is examined by a permanent elections staff member to ensure compliance via a detailed checklist. For example, a door must require no more than five pounds of force to open, and any ramp used for a wheelchair must be no steeper than an 8.3 percent grade. If these and more do not meet ADA standards, Elections Services will work with the facility to remedy the issue.
Election Services also will bring an ADA-accessible touch screen ballot marking machine to each early voting location for voters who have difficulty with viewing and/or marking a paper ballot. Those machines allow the user to make their ballot selections on a touch screen, using audio and tactile aids if necessary. After the selections are completed and confirmed by the voter, the machine will print the voter’s choices on their paper ballot, which is later scanned in the same machine as the hand-marked ballots. I’ve used this machine myself in the past and enthusiastically endorse its use, especially by anyone who worries about filling out a ballot by hand.
Perhaps the most important way an in-person early voting site mirrors your local Election Day polling place is the guarantee of a pressure-free voting environment. The same rules of conduct apply as prescribed by Iowa law. That includes a prohibition on campaign activity within a 300-foot radius of the building. It also means that your election workers are hard at work ensuring that “politics-free” atmosphere, gently dissuading any conversation or other activity that could potentially impact a person’s vote.
Some might say it’s ironic that the one place where the fate of a long and intense campaign is decided is the one place that is kept completely independent of political influence. I say it’s essential to keeping the confidence of the voters. Their commitment as election workers to leave even their strongest opinions at the door helps build a deep trust with one another regardless of party affiliation. A voting location is perhaps one of the few remaining examples anymore of people from distinctly opposite ends of the political spectrum happily working in cooperation with each other, and these workers do it beautifully.
I could shout praises of Linn County’s election workers all day long, but I’d rather you have the opportunity to do so yourself. When you make your plan to vote in the Nov. 2 election, consider doing so at one of our in-person early voting locations. Visit www.linncountyelections.org for more information and come meet the people who are so happy to serve Linn County voters.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org