Government

Poll: Older Iowa voters strongly support absentee voting option

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller on Sept. 29, 2019, after Pate, a Ced
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (left) talks with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller on Sept. 29, 2019, after Pate, a Cedar Rapids resident, voted early. An AARP poll found strong support among older voters for Pate’s decision to mail requests for absentee ballots to all Iowa voters before the June primary. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — By overwhelming margins, older Iowa voters approve of the state’s move this past spring to send early voting applications to all registered voters ahead of the June primary election and of county-level elections officials to do the same for this fall’s general election.

And nearly half of older Iowa voters said they plan to vote early by absentee ballot this fall, according to a poll published Wednesday by the Iowa chapter of AARP and conducted by Selzer & Company.

According to the poll, 69 percent of Iowa voters 50 years of age or older said they approve of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s decision to mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter in the state before the June primary election. Just 25 percent said they disapproved of the move.

Pate made the decision to send the early-voting request forms in an effort to limit in-person voting for the primary election amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

After the primary election, the Republican-led Iowa Legislature and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds passed a measure that limits the Iowa Secretary of State’s ability to do the same thing in future elections. The Secretary of State now must first receive approval from a panel of legislative leaders.

But the new law does not prevent county-level elections officials from sending out early voting request forms.

And according to the AARP/Selzer poll, 63 percent of older Iowa voters said they would support county auditors doing that ahead of the Nov. 3 general election. Just 31 percent said they would oppose such a move.

When asked about their plan for this fall’s election, 48 percent of older Iowa voters said they plan to vote early via absentee ballot; 44 percent said they plan to vote at a polling site on Election Day.

“What we saw from the poll shows a very crystal clear message, which is Iowans support absentee voting,” Brad Anderson, Iowa AARP’s state director, said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. “And many Iowans plan on voting absentee this November.”

Anderson said AARP strongly encouraged state and local elections officials to once again mail absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters ahead of this fall’s election. Some county auditors have said that is their intent.

Selzer and Company surveyed 804 Iowa registered voters ages 50 and over from July 6 through July 8. The poll’s margin for error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Those who oppose the expansion of voting by mail — which is one option under Iowa’s early absentee voting process — often express concerns for election fraud, even though multiple studies using different methodologies have found voter fraud is rare, according to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

For the AARP/Selzer poll, older Iowa voters were asked whether they perceive a greater threat in the potential spread of the coronavirus at polling locations or the potential for election fraud: 57 percent said they more fear the potential spread of the virus, versus 36 percent who said they more fear voter fraud.

Selzer said Republicans were more likely to say they feared election fraud than virus spread, and no-party voters aligned more closely with Democrats in saying they more fear the potential for virus spread.

More than four out of five older Iowa voters surveyed said they supported political office holders who proposed maintaining (37 percent) or expanding (44 percent) access to absentee voting. A mere 11 percent said they supported office holders who want to restrict access to absentee voting.

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“I think the finding all the way around is that there is support for having the choice of an absentee ballot and making that easier, which is a ballot coming to the home, through the mail, in a proactive way,” Selzer said.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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