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2020 could be a record breaking election year

2020 could be a record breaking election year

T-R PHOTOS BY THOMAS NELSON — Chris Hayes, a Marshall County Auditor employee, prepares absentee ballot requests. The Auditor’s Office has received 344 requests so far.

The June primary broke Iowa and Marshall County’s turnout records, and November’s general election is on par to break more.

“I think our numbers are going to be up,” said Nan Benson, Marshall County Auditor.

Benson’s office is preparing for record breaking results with 18,000 absentee ballots already prepared for voters. The last two Presidential elections in Marshall County had high turnout with 18,759 in 2008, 19,192 voters coming out in 2012 and 18,175 in 2016.

The highest recorded turnout in Marshall County was in 1984 when 19,835 voters participated in the election.

This year’s primary saw less than 900 people go to the polls, but more than 4,200 absentee ballots were submitted.

An absentee ballot request is prepared to sent out to a Marshall County resident. This year Nan Benson, the Marshall County auditor is expecting record absentee turnout.

“We had 80 percent of folks voting in the primary vote absentee,” Benson said.

The general election could widen the margin even more.

“We could be pushing 20,000,” Benson said.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate also believes there will be high voter turnout.

“We’re going to give a lot of encouragement for people to vote absentee, who wish to do so,” he said. “I think we could see a much higher turnout than normal.”

Chris Hayes, a Marshall County Auditor employee, lays out the material for absentee ballot requests. Ballots will be sent out on Oct. 5.

Pate is not making any prediction yet, until he starts to see absentee ballot requests come into his office.

“Presidential years tend to have much higher turnout,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more people voting absentee than normal. I think we’ll probably see up to 60 percent of folks voting absentee.

“If not our highest turnouts, definitely in the top three,” Pate said.

Ballot requests

Marshall County residents have been able to request a ballot since July 5, but ballots won’t be sent out until Oct. 5.

The Marshall County election office already has 344 absentee ballot requests – kept in two 1-foot stacks – and more are expected. The Nov. 3 general election is in less than 90 days.

Pate’s office will send out ballot requests to registered voters in August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We did in the primary because of COVID-19 and we’re doing it again for the fall election,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to get federal funding to assist with the challenge. That will underwrite the cost. Every active registered voter in the state of Iowa will get an application if they want to vote absentee.”

Pate’s office will not send ballots out to registered voters, unless they send back their absentee ballot application.

“If you want a ballot it will be sent to you,” he said.

Benson’s office was planning on mailing the request forms to registered voters before the Secretary of State’s office took the lead.

“Voters won’t need to pay for the postage of the ballots,” Benson said. “They have a return address so you can drop it back off in the mail.”

Election results

Complete results of the general election may not be available the evening of Nov. 3, but accurate results will be tallied.

Some absentee ballots could be received a day or two after election day, so they would not be counted on election night. Those ballots might make the difference in the Iowa House or Iowa Senate races.

“I would caution our job is not to try to get it out by the press’ deadline,” Pate said. “We want to make sure we give them accurate information.”

Pate wants the public and media’s expectation to be reasonable because of the possibility for record turnout.

“It may take some additional time,” he said. “I’m very confident we’ll have the information as quickly as we can process it.”

The numbers given out on election night are always unofficial for a reason.

“They’ve always been a preliminary run of numbers,” Pate said. “Official results are never given out on election night.”

Pate wants to make sure his office reports the most accurate information they can as soon as possible.

“We all like to know,” he said.

Benson does not think the Presidential or Iowa’s U.S. Senate race is too close because of the number of voters involved.

“But, when you start thinking about the race like for Iowa’s Senate or House, it could be a one vote difference,” she said. “Those three or eight absentee that trickle in could change it.”

A close election might not be decided until the Marshall County Board of Supervisors canvasses the results and even then a recount can be requested by either candidate.

Marshall County’s State House and Senate races are usually decided by large enough margins that Benson does not predict any election uncertainty.

However, she does not discount the possibility. In 2018, Iowa House District 55 in northeast Iowa was decided by nine votes and was contested.

“The potential is there for that to occur,” Benson said. “But, the likelihood is pretty low.”

Record turnout is not likely to impact election reporting aside from taking a little longer to report.

“I think we’re going to know who the President will be, but it may be the wee hours of the morning,” Benson said.

Election integrity

Benson and Pate feel secure about the election’s integrity.

“We have a secure election room that only the election staff can get it,” Benson said. “It’s just us and that’s where the ballots are kept.”

Iowa still uses paper ballots which are commonly considered the most secure way to vote.

“We are very fortunate in Iowa,” Pate said. “We have an A-team out there working your elections.”

The Secretary of State’s office and county auditors are working with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the vote.

“We have various other cyber protections out there,” Pate said. “You put all that together and I’m very comfortable that we’re going to secure the elections.”

The biggest election problem Pate sees is misinformation.

“Misinformation can be very damaging,” he said. “You really need to look to key sources on these things and that’s your auditor’s office or the Secretary of State.”

All election officials are taking steps to keep people safe during the pandemic as well. Aside from absentee voting, verbal health checks will be given at Marshall County polling locations.

“We have curbside voting,” Pate said. “Those who want to vote in person, that opportunity will be there in November; those that want to vote curbside, that option will be available; those that want to vote in the courthouse, that option is available; and if you want to vote absentee that’s available to you.

“We’re going to make sure we protect both poll workers and the voters who do come to vote in person. Iowans have a great track record when it comes to voting.”

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Contact Thomas Nelson at 641-753-6611 or tnelson@timesrepublican.com

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