ELECTION 2020

Iowa voters near record of absentee votes

Several days of early voting remain before Nov. 3

Voters line up Friday afternoon to cast absentee ballots for early voting in Johnson County. Drive-up voting continues t
Voters line up Friday afternoon to cast absentee ballots for early voting in Johnson County. Drive-up voting continues through Nov. 2 at the parking ramp north of the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque St. The entrance to drive up voting is off Clinton Street. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 31; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 1. (John Steppe/The Gazette)

Iowa voters are casting ballots in person or by mail at a near-record level before the Nov. 3 general election, with several days of early voting still remaining.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office reported that 685,234 absentee ballots have been returned to county auditors statewide by Friday morning, just shy of the record set in 2012. Those include people who voted by mail or early in person at auditors’ offices or satellite voting locations.

While Democrats typically lead in early voting in Iowa, their advantage this year is significantly bigger than at this time in 2016 or 2012.

About 51 percent of the ballots returned have come from registered Democrats compared with 31 percent from Republicans and 18 percent from those not belonging to either party.

That means President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst will likely need to overcome a six-figure Iowa vote deficit on Election Day — when many reliable Republican voters cast ballots instead.

Trump and Democrat Joe Biden are competing for the state’s six electoral votes while Ernst is seeking a second term against challenger Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Both races are considered deadlocked in Iowa.

The number of absentee votes has easily surpassed the 653,438 cast in 2016, despite a shorter window this year for early voting.

In 2017, Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature passed a law allowing for 29 days of early voting instead of 40. This year, that period began Oct. 5.

The early vote count is expected to keep growing significantly in the coming days. More than 178,000 additional voters have been sent absentee ballots, and most of those are expected to be returned.

Completed requests to receive absentee ballots have to arrive at county auditors’ offices before today’s 5 p.m. deadline.

Absentee ballots that are mailed in must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and arrive by Nov. 9 in order to count.

In addition, voters can still show up and cast ballots at auditors’ offices or satellite voting locations. Voters should first check hours and locations with their county auditor office.

Iowa also allows for same-day voter registration on Election Day, when polling places will be open for 14 hours.

Overall turnout in the election could reach or exceed 1.6 million votes and the majority of those could be absentee.

The previous record for absentee voting was 2012, when state statistics show 689,661 people voted using that method.

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This year’s pace was boosted by mailings of absentee ballot request forms from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and local auditors to registered voters. Pate and local officials have promoted mail voting as a safe option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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