Iowa Absentee Ballot Requests 5 Times Higher Than 2016 At This Point

Photo via National Guard

By Pat Rynard

September 22, 2020

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office has begun their daily posting of absentee ballot request numbers throughout the state. The early numbers make it clear: Iowans are really, really ready to vote, and will be doing so by mail at a far greater rate this year.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 22, there are 545,713 requests for absentee ballots in Iowa. At this same point in 2016, 114,207 Iowans had requested a ballot. Nearly five times as many Iowans have requested to vote by mail as had at this point in the last presidential election, and it’s already nearing the final early votes of 2016. That year, 653,438 early votes had been cast by the time Election Day arrived.

Democrats have requested twice the number of absentee ballots than Republicans have so far. There are 301,317 Democratic requests, compared to 153,889 for Republicans and 88,857 from No Party voters.

Here’s the breakdown by congressional district:

Dem GOP NP Other Total
CD 1          78,262          34,900         23,129              394        136,685
CD 2          79,197          34,265         22,741              353        136,556
CD 3          93,185          45,716         28,127              670        167,698
CD 4          50,673          39,008         14,860              233        104,774
Total        301,317        153,889         88,857           1,650        545,713


And here’s what that looks like on a percentage basis of the overall requests:

CD 1 57% 26% 17%
CD 2 58% 25% 17%
CD 3 56% 27% 17%
CD 4 48% 37% 14%
Total 55% 28% 16%


Starting Line will break down the absentee requests by county and state legislative districts in the days to come, but some may be particularly interested in the Polk County numbers, where the county Democratic Party has run a major vote-by-mail effort. In Polk County, registered Democrats have requested 62,576 ballots, compared to 22,593 for Republicans. That means Democrats have 60% of the total requests in Iowa’s largest county to start out with.

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On September 27, 2016, which was also 42 days out from that year’s elections, 114,207 Iowans had requested a ballot. At that point, Democrats had an even larger advantage than they do now, with 63,882 Democrats requesting a ballot versus 24,706 Republicans and 25,347 No Party voters. That advantage closed significantly over time, with Democrats having just 286,268 requested and 267,791 voted on Election Day, compared to Republicans’ 236,268 ballots requested and 225,800 early votes.

All campaigns are encouraging early voting by mail this year with the pandemic still raging on unabated. Iowa already smashed past early vote records in this year’s primary elections, where about 70% of those who voted did so by mail.

The Secretary of State has again sent out a statewide absentee ballot mailer as they did in the primary, and many local county auditors have sent out their own mailings. Those official mailers have seen far greater responses from voters than those typically sent out by campaigns, which have also inundated voters’ mailboxes with requests.

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The Donald Trump campaign filed several lawsuits against county auditors in Democratic-leaning counties that had sent out request forms with voters’ Voter ID number filled in. Those requests have been invalidated (though those voters can simply request again on a new form), though it’ll take a closer examination of each county’s request numbers to see how much that’s impacted the numbers this early on.

October 5 is the first official day of early voting in Iowa.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/22/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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