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Linn County League fans out to sign up voters

Organizers mark National Voter Registration Day

Junior journalism major Josh Harmon of Flagstaff, Ariz., registers to vote Tuesday with Carolyn Sternowski (right) and Sharon Otting at the League of Women Voters voter registration table at Mount Mercy University in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Junior journalism major Josh Harmon of Flagstaff, Ariz., registers to vote Tuesday with Carolyn Sternowski (right) and Sharon Otting at the League of Women Voters voter registration table at Mount Mercy University in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Josh Harmon knew he should register to vote.

“My grandmother has been on my case to get registered,” the Mount Mercy University junior said Tuesday.

However, because he moved from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Cedar Rapids, he was confused about where he should register.

“But having it right here in front of me, I decided to do it,” Harmon said after registering at a Linn County League of Women Voters table in the university cafeteria.

That was Carolyn Sternowski’s goal.

“If they see it often enough it will serve as a reminder they need to get registered,” said Sternowski, who was staffing the table a with Sharon Otting, another League volunteer. “We’re not registering a lot of people, but we’re a presence here, so I think in that way it’s helpful that we’re here.”

She and Otting invited students to register and handed out “Every vote counts” stickers.

Joye Winey reported similar activity at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.

“We can only provide the opportunity,” Winey said. “A lot of people say they are registered.”

In some ways, Winey and Sternowski were not surprised that they weren’t busier. Voter registration efforts were intense in the run-up to the 2018 midterm election, and the 2020 presidential hopefuls are continuing those efforts.

According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, 2,141,734 Iowans are registered to vote. About 90 percent of eligible Iowans are registered to vote, and Iowa is consistently among the top 10 states in the nation for voter registration, according to Secretary of State Paul Pate.

Still, Sternowski thought she would be busy registering first-time voters on campus.

“But I guess the election is a long way off, and if there’s one thing college students are good at it’s procrastinating,” she said.

The group also was competing with a Hispanic Heritage Month event that was serving punch at the next table.

“Next year, we’ll bring cookies,” she joked.

Sternowski and Otting reminded students that to participate in the Feb. 3 precinct caucuses, they need to register with a political party.

“I tell them they can register at the caucuses, but the line is going to be long. The line here is short,” Sternowski said.

The League and its community partners observe National Voter Registration Day on the fourth Tuesday of September every year. This year, the Linn County League tried something different. In addition to registering voters at spaces such as the library and the university, members were encouraged to create “pop-up” voter registrations spaces in their workplaces, for example.

“We want to make voter registrations a part of the conversation,” said Kelzye Bedwell, the League’s voting services co-chair. She registered voters at the Horizons senior dining site where she works. “The idea behind this is to have individuals publicly involved in the League’s mission of registering voters in the places they are most comfortable.”

To check your voter registration status, call your county auditor or visit sos.iowa.gov and select the “Am I registered to vote in Iowa?” quick link.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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