CEDAR RAPIDS — In a scene played out across Iowa, voters were waiting in line Monday morning outside a Linn County early polling place as voting got underway for the Nov. 3 election.
Concerns about fraud, mail delivery and mishandling of ballots motivated over 20 people to stand outside in 40-degree weather, waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. at the polling station near the Linn County Public Service Center, 823 Third St. SW.
“I want to make sure my vote gets counted,” said Steve Valley, who was at the head of the line. “Ditto, ditto, ditto,” someone farther down the line called out.
By 4 p.m. Monday, the first of 29 days of early voting ahead of the Nov. 3 Election Day, 351 voters had been processed at the polling place, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said.
And 50,000 absentee ballots were mailed out Monday to Linn County voters, Miller said. He has tested mail delivery at 18 Linn County post offices and found that mail was delivered in one to two days. He expects all absentee ballots will be delivered by Wednesday in the county and asked voters to wait that long before calling his office or showing up to vote early in person.
Across Iowa, voting is expected to be heavy now through the election. More than 630,000 of Iowa’s 2.2 million registered voters have requested absentee ballots — over 350,000 Democrats, almost 187,000 Republicans and another 108,000 no-party voters have requested them. That represents about 28 percent of the 2,214,508 Iowans who were registered to vote Oct. 1, according to Secretary of State Paul Pate.
Both major political parties swung into action to encourage voters to have their say, reminding people of the stakes in the general election.
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“Starting today, our get-out-the-vote efforts are in full swing every day, every hour until the polls close on Nov. 3,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said during a conference call with reporters. “This election is going to come down to the wire, there’s no doubt about that.”
The Iowa Democratic Party held early voting kickoff events Monday morning in six cities across the state.
“From the record-setting number of absentee ballots already requested and the energy we saw at early voting locations this morning, it’s clearer than ever that Democrats are motivated to make our voices heard at the ballot box,” state party Chairman Mark Smith said in a statement.
In Scott County, Auditor Roxanna Moritz said about 50 people were waiting in line to vote Monday morning in Davenport, and her office mailed out more than 37,000 ballots.
Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald said nearly 400 voters had cast ballots in-person there before noon, and the office mailed out over 112,000 ballots.
In Iowa, there are plenty of races in which voters may be engaged.
Polls suggest the presidential race in the state between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden is very close, as is the high-stakes U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. That one could determine which party emerges from the election with a majority in the Senate.
Three of the state’s congressional races appear to be close and the fourth, in northwest Iowa’s 4th District, is intriguing after the primary defeat of Republican nine-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve King.
And Republicans’ unblocked control of the state lawmaking process is on the ballot as Democrats try to take control of the Iowa House.
In the queue for early Linn County voting, those who came early expressed concerns over their voices being heard.
“I’m very concerned about voter fraud and ballots being mishandled,” said first-in-line Valley, explaining his reason for voting early. “It’s frightening, scary.”
Right behind him in line was Kimberly Carter-Fuller, who had a bad experience with her mail-in ballot in a previous election.
“I don’t want that to happen again,” she said. Carter-Fuller received several absentee ballots request forms, including one from Chicago. “I haven’t voted there in eight years.”
So she wasn’t taking any chances.
“This is a very important election. For everyone,” Carter-Fuller said. “As a woman and as a Black woman, I want my vote to be heard.”
Others said they had planned to vote by mail, but after hearing concerns about slow mail delivery decided to come out to vote in-person.
“Mask up, show up,” Paula Grady said.
Like Grady, Mary Roff had planned to vote by mail until she read about the Postal Service removing sorting machines in some post offices.
“So I’m not doing that,” she said, adding that by voting early in person, “I don’t have to worry about any more October surprises.”
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Like others in line, Grady said she felt nervous about voting “and I just want to get it done.”
“I’m here to knock it off before things get too crazy,” added Josh Murphy of Cedar Rapids. Also, by showing up first thing, Murphy thought there might be less potential to contract the coronavirus.
Others, like B.J. Franklin, who sometimes heads to Phoenix in the fall, voting early is a convenience.
Bob Jaeger said he and his wife, Judy, usually vote early, “but maybe not the first day,” he said.
“We’ll beat the crowd,” he said.
“We’re still standing in line,” Judy said, adding that after voting, “we’re off to Panera to get something warm.”
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Tom Barton of the Quad-City Times and Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.