Iowa Absentee Ballot Requests Lag Behind 2012 Numbers

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office released the number of absentee ballots requested by voters so far today, and the overall absentee request numbers are down from 2012. The timing of absentee mailers, however, may have impacted that and the numbers could soon significantly increase.

43,443 registered Democrats have requested absentee ballots, nearly three times as many as the 15,272 registered Republicans who have done so. However, that’s much less than the 97,001 Democratic requests and slightly above the 14,909 Republican ones from this point in the last presidential election.

Neither party has sent out many rounds of absentee ballot request mailers yet, a change from previous years and likely the main reason the numbers are down for Democrats. Starting Line hears Republicans sent their first mailer out a week and a half ago, and the Democrats’ first mailer hit late last week. Many of the returns from those likely have not yet gotten to their local auditor’s offices yet, and these numbers may jump up significantly in just a few days. The Black Hawk County auditor apparently received a large batch from the Democrats’ mailer today.

For the Democrats’ part at least, this is an intentional change in strategy – their research suggested that if you send the requests mailers out too early, people will forget they requested a ballot by the time they arrive. Still, they’ll want to see these numbers increase rather quickly.

Here’s the current comparison of today and September 18, 2012, which was the same number of days out from the election then as we’re at now.

Party Today Then % Diff
Democrat 43,443 97,001 45%
Republican 15,272 14,909 102%
No Party 16,180 30,083 54%
Other 178 128 139%

Absentee/early voting is extremely critical to Democrats’ ability to win in Iowa. In 2012 Barack Obama received 49% of his total vote in Iowa by absentee/early voting.

To turn out the Democrats’ base, which is typically less-likely to vote than Republicans’, Iowa Democrats employ huge field operations to sign up their supporters for absentee ballots at their doorsteps, call them when they receive it in the mail, and continually call and visit their door until the ballot is turned back in. Both parties send out multiple absentee ballot mailers as well.

Ever since Terry Branstad’s return to the governor’s office, Iowa Republicans have focused more and more heavily on absentee ballots. In 2006 just 20% of registered Republicans voted early. That increased to 32% in 2008, hit 30% in 2010, and reached 40% in 2012 and 2014. 37% of Mitt Romney’s vote in 2012 came from the early vote. Republicans have continued to fine-tune their absentee tactics.

Overall, the Republicans see these numbers as an advantage to them, considering Democrats’ heavy reliance on the early vote.

“Clearly Hillary Clinton’s dishonest campaign is not inspiring the kind of enthusiasm that is critical for success in November,” RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek told Starting Line. “Meanwhile the RNC is continuing our historic ground game efforts in Iowa to ensure Republican victories up and down the ticket on Election Day.”

The Democrats argue you simply can’t compare the dynamics of the two cycles.

“The 2016 campaign is a fundamentally different campaign from 2012,” said Ben Foecke, executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party. “We aren’t running against Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. We are running an effective ground game with hardworking staffers on the ground who are committed to maximizing all 40 days of the early voting window.”

The Democratic legislative campaigns clearly differed with the party’s overall approach. Starting Line hears they sent out their own absentee mailers to their targeted districts earlier on, and the difference in requests in the swing districts are very obvious. (Look at them by senate district and house district)

Liz Mathis’ district leads the state with 2,426 Democratic absentees requested, compared to the Republicans’ 495 there. Jeff Danielson’s SD 30 comes in second with 2,100 Democratic requests compared to 465 Republican ones. Chris Brase also has a very healthy lead in SD 46 with 1,944 Democratic requests to 395 Republican ones.

It makes one question the Republican legislative candidates’ focus on the doors. A drive through Marion today showed a whole lot of Rene Gadhela yard signs around, but they clearly must not be asking for many absentee ballots on the doors. Waylon Brown has reportedly knocked over 20,000 doors in SD 26, where Republicans have 286 absentee requests.

The lagging number of requests from 2012 could indicate a number of things. Part of it is clearly a choice in strategy by the Democrats to start a push to collect absentee ballot request later. It could also suggest Iowa voters simply aren’t as enthused about voting in 2016 as they were in the last presidential election. The next few weeks, especially the early return rates, will paint a bigger picture.

Democrats’ huge advantage at the start in 2012 narrowed significantly by the end. By Election Day in 2012, registered Democrats had requested 312,834 absentee ballots, while Republicans had 229,596.

This is the first day the full data has been publicly available and will get updated every day. Those numbers will be watched extremely closely by both parties as they ramp up their turnout efforts – early voting officially begins in Iowa next Thursday, September 29. Most voters who had requested an absentee ballot will start to receive them within a few days of that date.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/20/16

1 Comment on "Iowa Absentee Ballot Requests Lag Behind 2012 Numbers"

  • Waiting to send mailers is a dumb strategy. You take something that worked very well in the past and decide not to do it this time. I don’t understand the logic in that.

    I’ve been waiting weeks for a mailer. Usually I would have my ballot and have voted by now.

    Making reliable voters wait and wonder when those mailers will arrive is counter productive to turning out the vote.

    Hopefully this strategy will return to normal next time around. It’s very frustrating when in the past it has been super easy.

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