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Getting ready to vote

Schaa's advice: Just submit one absentee ballot request form

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship Many Hamilton County voters are choosing to vote by absentee ballot this year due to the pandemic and other reasons. County Auditor Kim Schaa urges residents to fully fill out their ballot requests before returning the form.

By now, most registered voters have probably received at least one or two absentee ballot request forms in the mail. Forms have been sent out by the two major political parties, others may have been sent by political action committees. The Iowa Secretary of State has also sent out a form for voters to request ballots.

What all of these mailings have in common is they are all legitimate and any one of them can be used to request an absentee ballot from the Hamilton County Auditor.

Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Kim Schaa said there’s been some confusion this year with the absentee ballot situation and her office has fielded many questions.

“The calls have been constant every day,” she said.

“We’ve had several voters who’ve sent in more than one ballot request,” she said. “They only need to send in the one request form and they will not receive more than one ballot.”

The trend toward absentee voting has increased through the years. In 2012, it reached a high of 3,505 ballots sent out. In 2016, there were 3,309. For the 2020 primary election, 2,616 absentee ballots were sent out, according to Schaa. As of Tuesday, Schaa said her office has received 1,878 request forms.

Schaa’s office will start filling the absentee requests and mailing ballots on Oct. 5. Oct. 24 is the last day that the auditor’s office can mail out ballots.

“We’ve sent the ballots to the printer now. We’re getting envelopes ready and as soon as the ballots arrive we’ll start stuffing envelopes to mail starting Oct. 5,” she said.

Those who wish to vote early can do so starting on Oct. 5 as well. The lower level lobby of the courthouse will be set up for voters to cast ballots in a socially distanced manner. Remember, the courthouse requires a face covering for all of those who use the public areas of the building.

“If the courthouse doors are still locked, you can just ring the door bell or call when you arrive,” she said, “and someone will let you in to vote. No appointment is necessary.”

Schaa said that if people are uncertain about coming into the courthouse or are have health concerns, her staff can deliver the ballot curbside to voters.

The courthouse will be open on two Saturdays before the election for voting. Hamilton County residents can cast their ballots on Oct. 24 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There has been concern over possible delays in mail delivery before the election, but Schaa said she has talked to the local post office and the Secretary of State’s office about the matter.

“They’ve both told me the same thing — we’re in the Hawkeye District and we should have no problems whatsoever,”she said.

Schaa said her office has also had questions from voters who wondered if they should go to the polls and vote again even if they have already voted absentee.

“Don’t do that,” she said. “If voters want to find out if their absentee ballot is back, they can go to the Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.iowa.gov) and do a ‘Track Your Ballot,'” she said. Once the ballots are mailed out on Oct. 5, Schaa said voters should be able to track the progress of the ballot.

“They can also give us a call to ask if it’s been received,” she said.

Those who go to the polls and insist on voting even if records show their ballot has been received, will vote by provisional ballot.

Absentee ballots have to be postmarked by Monday, Nov. 2 and be received no later than the following Monday. The ballots can also be returned to the courthouse on Election Day, Nov. 3, but cannot be returned to the polling sites.

The absentee ballots will be examined by the Absentee Ballot Board on Monday, Nov. 2 to make sure the envelopes are sealed and signed. The envelopes will be opened and separated from the ballot and secrecy sleeve inside. Later the ballots are removed from the sleeve and locked in ballot boxes overnight. Tuesday morning, the Absentee Board will repeat the same procedure for any ballots that might have arrived in the mail or that were dropped off.

“Normally, what we do is run the ballots through the scanner on Election Day but don’t run any reports until after 9 p.m. when the polls close,” she said.

For those considering absentee ballot voting this year, Schaa urges voters to fill out the ballot request form completely. The voter’s name, date of birth, Iowa residential address, driver’s license number or non-operator ID number or the four digit PIN number on the voter’s Iowa Voter Card, the date of the election and the voter’s signature.

“Remember to sign the envelope,” she said.

If any of the information is missing, she said her staff would contact the voter for the complete information.

If the voter happens to make a mistake on their ballot, they can write “Spoiled” on the ballot and on the envelope and return it to the auditor. A new ballot can then be sent out.

Schaa said she those voting on election day should be prepared for lines at their polling places. She said the county’s 8 polling sites will be operating with at least the minimum election officials working at each site.

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