Could Iowa Do All-Mail Balloting In General Election?

By Nikoel Hytrek

April 16, 2020

It seems Iowa could be one state to host full vote-by-mail elections this year.

Last week, Iowa Sec. of State Paul Pate raised the possibility of Iowa sending out ballots to all voters for the November general election rather than have people physically at the polls.

Because of the coronavirus, people across the country have questioned whether the 2020 general elections should be held in person at all.

“The safety of voters while casting their ballots is our top priority,” Pate said in a Sioux City Journal article. “The June 2 primary election will go on as scheduled because it’s important for Iowans to make their voices heard by voting. The safest way to vote will be by mail.”

Right now, Pate’s solution for the upcoming primary election is to mail every Iowan an absentee ballot request form and encourage them to vote absentee. Voters will then fill out the application, send it back and receive their ballot in the mail. He announced the move on March 31.

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But sending the ballots in the first place would cut out that middle step. It could also save money, since if the state is mailing out the request forms, it’s already spending a sizable amount on postage. If most return those requests, it’s paying for postage twice instead of just sending out the ballots once.

Pate hasn’t committed to doing that for the general election, but it’s reportedly still on the table. That’s far more than most Republican elected officials in other states are open to when it comes to increased vote-by-mail efforts.

For the primary elections, polling sites in the state have been decreased. For example, in Clayton County, 14 precincts have been merged into one and Woodbury County will have two, a significant decrease from its normal 44. County auditors across the state have encouraged people to stay away from the polls to vote, and pushed the Sec. of State’s plan to keep voting remote.

Some auditors have also called for the November elections to be entirely vote-by-mail, while others have questioned whether Iowa has the systems in place to support it.

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Pate extended the absentee voting period for mailed ballots to 40 days. That means ballots will be mailed by county auditors starting April 23.

Pate joined the AARP yesterday to also encourage older Iowans to stay away from polling locations and vote by mail in the upcoming primary. Older Iowans have been the most affected population by the spread of the coronavirus.


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 4/16/20

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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