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Government

Sample ballots confuse dozens in Linn County

128 residents filled out and returned ballots

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sample ballots mailed out by the Linn County Auditor’s Office with the hopes of preparing voters for the November election have boosted absentee ballot requests, but also may have confused some residents.

The mailers were sent out last week to the county’s more than 90,000 households. They included up-to-date information on state voter ID rules, an absentee ballot request form with return envelope and a sample of the November ballot.

Linn County Deputy Commissioner of Elections Rebecca Stonawski said the sample ballot was mailed to help voters prepare for the upcoming Nov. 6 election.

“One of the issues that we consistently hear is that voters just don’t know who is on the ballot,” Stonawski said. “We’re just trying to engage populations who are otherwise not informed.”

However, as of Tuesday, at least 128 county residents had filled out and mailed back the sample ballots — which look like an official ballot with the word “Sample” printed across it in gray, all-caps text, Stonawski said. She said those sample ballots have been destroyed and letters were sent to 122 of those residents to notify them it was not an official ballot and remind of the proper ways to vote. Six of the filled-out sample ballots that were mailed in did not include a return address and those residents could not be reached, she added.

Brett Nilles, chair of the Linn County Democrats, said his office had received several calls from residents who were confused by the inclusion of the sample ballot.

Nilles and Stonawski said the word “sample” may not have been dark enough for some people to notice.

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“Unfortunately, on the sample ballot, ‘sample’ is not on there clearly enough for people to understand this is just a sample,” Nilles said. “There’s possibly there are six or more people out there who think they voted already and (the county has) no way of contacting them and letting them know this is not a valid ballot.”

With Iowa voters facing new voter ID rules, new electronic pollbooks at precincts and increased scrutiny on matters of voter fraud, Nilles said he’s worried the mailers might just add to the confusion.

“The fear that I have is that people will be filling these out and sending them in. ... They’re going to think they sent in their ballot already and think, ‘Good, I’ve done my part,’ and they won’t show up at the polls,” he said. “There’s just too many things going on and we just have one more thing.”

Justin Wasson, chair of the Linn County GOP, said he had not heard of any confusion by voters regarding the sample ballots.

Stonawski said, despite the residents who may have thought the sample ballot was legit, the mailer has been successful in attracting absentee ballot request forms — the office received about 2,500 forms Monday.

“We have had a lot of people say, ‘Thank you, this is really helpful,’” she said. “We really heard some positive feedback.”

All told, the county has received more than 9,200 absentee ballot requests. Absentee ballots will be mailed early next week.

Outside of Linn County, Woodbury County Auditor Patrick Gill said he also is planning to send out sample ballots next week. He was not aware of any other county sending sample ballots.

Gill said the mailer also is aimed at educating residents and inspiring voters.

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He did note that the mailer will not include a return letter, like those in Linn County, which might help minimize confusion.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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