When it comes to voting, Iowans are fortunate.
Voters can participate on Election Day at local polling stations, of course. In larger communities, there typically are several satellite voting locations in the lead-up to the big day. And all registered voters, no questions asked, can request, complete and submit an absentee ballot.
Everyone likes options and, clearly, Iowans have them. But, as some Iowa voters only recently learned, submitting an absentee ballot by mail doesn’t guarantee it will be counted — even if it is received before the election.
This risk has come to light as part of a very close race in Iowa House District 55, which is located in the northeast corner of the state. Nine votes separate the candidates, yet 31 absentee ballots received on time won’t be counted because they lack an official postmark from the U.S. Postal Service.
And this isn’t an isolated incident. According to election officials, absentee ballots arrive as unmarked mail in every election because the post office doesn’t guarantee a postmark. They aren’t counted because Iowa election law requires a valid postmark for any ballot not received by the time polls close on Election Day.
Fortunately, such set-aside absentee ballots rarely constitute a large enough pool to flip an outcome. The situation in District 55 is garnering headlines because it is a rarity.
The postmark rule is in place to keep races fair; to make sure absentee ballots are completed and returned before Election Day. While we lament the discard of an otherwise valid ballot, we believe the law is fair.
It is up to each Iowa voter to make sure his/her ballot is valid. Those who find mailing through the U.S. Postal Service to be too great a risk can always hand deliver their absentee ballot to the county auditor’s office or have it picked up by volunteer couriers organized by local political parties.
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