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‘At a steady pace’

With less than three weeks to the general election, requested absentee ballots are approaching record numbers

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship A section of the Hamilton County Courthouse lobby is roped off for early voting in a socially-distanced manner.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election is continuing “at a steady pace” in Hamilton County, according to Kim Schaa, Hamilton County auditor and commissioner of elections.

The courthouse opened Oct. 5 for early voting during regular courthouse business hours. The lower level lobby of the courthouse is set up for voters to cast ballots in a socially-distanced manner. Schaa reminded voters that a face covering is required for all of those who use the public areas of the courthouse. Voters also need to bring their driver’s license or state issued ID.

Oct. 5 was also the same day that the Schaa’s office started mailing out absentee ballots.

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, Schaa said. As of Thursday, the auditor said her office has received 3,352 ballot requests.

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.

A new dropbox for absentee ballots has been set up by the front door of courthouse and voters can drop off ballots there, or bring them inside to her office if the voter prefers not to mail the ballot.

Schaa said her office has received questions about a voters group that has been sending out text messages and postcards on the status of voters’ ballots. Apparently, there is confusing information related to those messages.

“Just ignore those messages and cards,” Schaa 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, Schaa said voters should be able to track the progress of the ballot.

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

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.

For those who still wish to register to vote, Schaa said the worry-free deadline is Oct. 24.

“Those registered by that date will appear on the voter rolls,” she said. “People can still register to vote at the polls, but they need to be aware they will need to provide an ID and proof of residency.”

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