ELECTION 2020

Lines form at polling places with steady turnout

It’s Election Day, and thousands of voters are heading to the polls in Iowa to cast their ballots. Nearly 1 million voters statewide cast their ballots early in the election that will determine if President Donald Trump and Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst will be reelected, along with many other important state and local races.

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Gazette reporters are visiting polling places in Linn and Johnson counties Tuesday with regular updates throughout the day to see how voters are turning out and what the scene it like in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas.

6 p.m.: Voting together

The Rausch family in North Liberty waited until after work on Election Day to cast ballots together — with mom Toni Rausch and dad Jeremy Rausch bringing along their teenage daughter and son to get the experience. The family planned to go home and watch the returns on TV together.

Myah Rausch, 15, said — after watching her parents vote — said she felt intimidated.

“If you choose the wrong one, then it like can screw up everything.”

3:45 p.m. 'We are going to shatter that'

According to a midafternoon update from the Johnson County auditor, 15,475 people have voted in person today. If you add that to the 60,789 who returned early vote requests this fall, you have 76,264 — or 78% of the county's 97,739 registered voters.

In that the afternoon total is nearing the previous total-vote record of 77,000, Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert told The Gazette, 'We are going to shatter that.'

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When asked if his office has received any reports of problems or voting issues, Weipert said, "None."

Reminder, polls close at 9 p.m.

3:40 p.m. Differing sides

Billy Taylor thinks America needs a change in leadership.

“Trump is trying to use his power for his own gain,” Billy said after he cast his ballot for Joe Biden.

Serena Taylor, his wife, however said voting for President Donald Trump is “the lesser of two evils.”

“The pandemic wasn’t his fault,” Serena said. “He’s been doing fine by me so far.”

Serena said voting in person felt important this year. She was worried if she voted absentee her ballot could be lost in the mail.

“If you don’t vote, you shouldn’t voice your opinion,” Serena said.

The husband and wife hadn’t talked about who they were going to vote for before casting their ballots Tuesday, and Billy voiced his surprise that his wife voted for Trump.

Regardless, they were both surprised at how quickly they were in and out of the precinct — “less than 15 minutes,” Serena said.

3:20 p.m. Last ditch effort to Get Out The Vote

Sisters Monica Fischer and Suzanne Renner voted early so they could Get Out The Vote on Election Day — focusing their efforts on increasing voter turnout in Linn County.

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Fischer, who said she thinks this is the most important election “of our lifetime,” is encouraged by the number of young voters at the polls.

While in past elections she’s noticed lines at the polls in the morning, at noon and in the evening, Election Day 2020 has been a steady stream of people, she said.

“I want competent, compassionate, honest leadership that I think is currently lacking,” Renner said.

2:40 p.m. Slow moments on a ‘social day’

Precinct chair Kathy Shelton hasn’t been surprised to have a few slow moments amid an otherwise steady stream of voters on Election Day.

With many Iowa voters electing to vote absentee or early, the only lines so far have been at 7 a.m. when polls opened.

Shelton is a retired fifth grade teacher from Van Buren Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. She taught her students the importance of voting and she enjoys seeing young people at the polls voting for the first time.

Shelton said she is also seeing a lot of older women who are first time voters, and muses it’s likely a combination of celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage and the contentious election.

Shelton herself registered to vote in 1970, the year the voting age was changed from 21 to 18, she recalled with pride.

Shelton, who was stationed at the National Czech and Slovak Museum, said it may very well be the “prettiest” precinct in the county.

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“I have an excellent team,” Shelton said of the poll workers at her precinct. “I like working the elections. It’s a social day.”

2:15 p.m.: No lines, in and out

Lifelong Iowa City resident Ryan Whiting, 41, said he’s been voting within the same one-mile radius for his entire voting life — first at City High until his polling place shifted half a mile to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.

Whiting found himself voting in person on Election Day this year — while more than 100 million cast their ballots early — because every time he tried the drive-through option outside the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, the line was too long.

Lines were no issue for Whiting on Tuesday though. And he said they never are at that site. He walked right in and cast his votes — all Democrat — in under two minutes.

12:50 p.m.: Steady turnout over noon hour

Judy Hagan, precinct chair at Antioch Church, has volunteered as a poll worker for nine years. This year, she felt the same sense of duty during a presidential race in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel they need help all the time,” Hagan said.

Over the noon hour while workers expected to see a rush of people during their lunch break, the polls remained steady.

Andrea Wesson accompanied her husband Justin Wasson — outfitted in a Trump mask — to vote. They had their two children in tow.

Andrea voted absentee a few weeks ago, worried she would be exposed to COVID-19 and would have to quarantine on Election Day.

Voting on Election Day is “more proper,” Justin said.

“There’s value in putting in some effort to vote. It’s more intentional,” he said.

12:10 p.m.: ‘Cancel each other out’

Glancing around hopefully for “vote here” signs, University of Iowa freshmen Erna Krusko, 18, and Kiara Johnson, 19, walked into the UI Campus Recreation and Wellness Center just after noon excited to vote in their first election.

Despite worries about lines and unforeseen circumstances that could have hindered their in-person vote, both students wanted to wait to cast their ballots in person on Election Day.

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“I wanted the full experience, even with COVID,” Krusko said. “I just really wanted to be able to go there and cast my vote, instead of doing it in kind of a weird way.”

“I’d be scared that it would get lost in the mail or something,” Johnson said. “And this is just more of an experience too.”

When asked who they’re voting for — Krusko said Biden and Johnson said Trump.

“I guess we cancel each other out,” Krusko said.

But they both expressed some surprise at how divisive the election has been — and why more haven’t found ways to agree to disagree.

“I definitely feel like if I had a different opinion than everyone else, I still would want people to be nice to me,” Krusko said. “So I just do the same for them.”

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” Johnson said, moments before registering in Iowa City and stepping into the voting “booth” for the first time.

Noon: More than 61 percent of registered voters have already cast ballots in Linn County

More than 17,000 voters in Linn County had turned out to vote in person by 11 a.m., according to turnout data from Linn County Election Services.

That means more than 61 percent of the county’s registered voters had already cast ballots by 11 a.m.

In Johnson County, just under 10,000 had turned out to cast ballots by 11 a.m. on Election Day, including 649 using Election Day registration, voter turnout numbers from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office showed. When combined with early voters, roughly 72 percent of registered voters in Johnson County had cast ballots by 11 a.m. on Election Day.

10:40 a.m.: Families vote together

Jennifer Stegemoller and her daughter Abby Stegemoller, 19, cast their ballot at Kirkwood Community College.

As they were walking in to the precinct, Jennifer acknowledged they were voting for different candidates for President.

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“Even though she doesn’t vote like me, this is who I raised her to be — to have an independent mind-set,” Jennifer said.

Abby, who is a first-time voter, said they respect each other’s opinions and don’t allow it to impact their relationship.

Julio Andrade also cast his ballot with his two year old daughter by his side. She was wearing an “I voted” sticker to match her dad.

Although Andrade acknowledged his daughter is too young to understand the significance of voting, he hopes bringing her to the polls has an impact.

“In the future when she gets bigger, she’ll realize why we’re doing this,” Andrade said.

10:30 a.m.: Redirecting lost voters

For hours already Joanne Havel has been standing in a bright yellow vest outside the Johnson County Auditor’s Office telling all comers — for the first time this election season — they cannot vote there in person today. She turned away 30 to 40 by midmorning but didn’t send them off empty-handed.

Armed with a tablet queued up to the county’s polling places and voter database, Havel looked up precincts for those hoping to vote — and provided them instructions on how to get there and even register, if necessary.

“The doors are closed, so we try to figure out how we can help them,” she said — moments before a would-be voter pulled up in his Black truck looking to cast a ballot.

Voters simply wanting to return absentee ballots still could do so at the auditor’s office, and Havel said she’d seen a steady stream of those Tuesday too.

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“We have one here,” she said, motioning to a walk-up box. “And then we have two drop offs for drive ups.”

10:14 a.m.: ‘I’ve done what I can do.’

Strolling up to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, documents in hand, 48-year-old Brian Ring said he was not there to vote — having already dropped off his absentee ballot two weeks ago. He was just updating his vehicle tags on this sunny Election Day.

Despite taking the actual step of voting long ago, Ring said, he still felt Election Day energy — and nerves.

“I don’t like the current sitting president,” he said. “He wasn’t my choice. So it’s very very much important to get out and make sure that my vote is in and counted with everything going on.”

He voted early — concerned about the potential for long lines, bad weather, or other complications on Election Day. Now that he’s done his part, though, Ring said he’s going to lay low and hope for the best.

“I’m not watching the news,” he said. “I’ve done what I can do.”

10 a.m.: No school in Iowa City frees up polling sites

The Iowa City Community School District did not have classes Tuesday, which meant school buildings were open for polling sites. A dozen voters from two precincts trickled into West High School over 30 minutes midmorning Tuesday.

One of those voters was Atif Fahal, 57, of Iowa City, who brought his son, Yousif, 10.

“He says, ‘Baba, are we going to vote?’,” Fahal said of his son, a Horn Elementary fifth-grader. “I said, ‘yes. Let’s go to the school’.”

Yousif said he wanted to see how voting worked. They checked in with poll workers, confirmed they were at the right polling site, went into the booth and voted and then watched the completed ballot sail into the voting machine.

“It was kind of cool,” Yousif said.

“We are happy to vote,” his father added.

9:40 a.m.: University of Iowa athletes voted weeks ago

Standing outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena — Iowa City precinct 3 — UI seniors Alexis Sevillian and Zion Sanders said they were not there to vote. Because they voted a long time ago.

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Sevillian, 22, voted in her second presidential election via absentee ballot — mailing her paperwork home to Michigan so her mom could return it in person. Sanders, 22, voted in her first presidential election via mail-in ballot in her home state of Indiana — sending it in weeks ago.

“It’s been a very long time since I sent mine,” Sanders said, citing concerns popping up nationally about mail delays and counting concerns. “I would be a little bit more worried if I sent it like two weeks ago or something like that — closer to election time.”

The students — members of the Hawkeye women’s basketball team — said they were at Carver on Tuesday to take their mandatory COVID-19 tests. And they were happy to have already cast their votes in what they perceive as an historically important election.

“This election has a lot to do with my future,” Sevillian said. “I’m graduating soon and growing up, and it impacts me a lot — just knowing that decisions are being made for me.”

Both women voted for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket, and Sanders said she was anxious with the knowledge they might not have answers on Election Day. But both said the pandemic and the student-specific challenges of being half on campus and half off didn’t hamper voter enthusiasm and activism within their circle.

“Within the Athletic Department, we kind of had a challenge to make sure that everyone got registered,” Sevillian said. “As an athletic program, we kind of made it a priority.”

9:30 a.m.: Voters following coronavirus precautions

When the precinct at the Harris Building in Cedar Rapids opened at 7 a.m., there was a line that formed the length of the block.

As voters walk into the precinct, they are asked three COVID-19 screening questions: “Do you have a cough or difficulty breathing?

Have you been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19? Do you have any recent loss of taste or smell?”

Precinct chairman Bruce Lacy said all but one voter had worn a mask.

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“Everyone who comes here has a purpose,” he said. “We appreciate those who wear masks. We see it as a courtesy to others.”

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said all 51 precincts opened on time Tuesday morning and are outfitted with cleaning products, masks and following social distancing procedures.

By 9:30 a.m., 11,000 Linn County residents had already cast their ballot.

“It’s going to be steady,” Miller said. “There’s nothing comparable about this year.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.