Common Voting Mistakes In Iowa And How to Avoid Them


Maybe you’ve never voted before, maybe you just reached the legal voting age, or maybe you just moved to our fair state of Iowa and want a primer on the various rules and regulations legislators have attached to voting over the years.

Never fear: We’re here to help!

It’s no secret voting in Iowa has gotten tougher in recent years, with Republicans adding Voter ID requirements and restricting the manner and time of voting.

So we asked election officials in two Iowa counties—Sioux County Auditor Ryan Dokter in Sioux County and Black Hawk County Elections Manager Karen Showalter—what the most common voting mistakes they saw were, and how voters could avoid them.

On Election Day

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, and it’s also your last chance to vote. Here’s what to know if you’re voting then:

  • Bring your ID—and, if you’re registering, a utility bill.

You always need your ID (see which IDs count here), but if you’re also registering to vote (Iowa offers same-day registration), you’ll need to prove you also reside at that address. Bring a recent utility bill or one of these eligible documents:

“Surprisingly to us, people forget they need ID to vote on Election Day (even though) this law has been in place,” Dokter said.

  • If you register and live in an apartment/dorm, put down your unit number.

A common way to not get your vote counted if you register on Election Day or during early voting is by not filling in a full address on your registration form. If you live in an apartment complex and only put the building’s address but not your room/unit number, it’s possible your voter registration card could get bounced back to the county auditor’s office in the mail, marked as “undeliverable.” If that happens, your registration likely won’t go through, and neither will your new vote.

  • Look up your polling place, because it might have changed this year.

After the Census, states redistrict based on population. Besides changing who represents you at the state and sometimes federal level, it could have easily changed your polling place too.

“Due to redistricting, several polling locations have changed,” Showalter said. Find your polling place on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website here.

  • Know how to mark your ballot.

Voters are “circling the candidate’s name or putting a checkmark next to the name, rather than filling in the oval on the ballot,” Dokter said.

Remember those standardized tests we all loved taking in school? Those tests, just like election ballots, are fed into a machine to make counting them faster, but the machine only counts them if the oval is completely darkened.

Make sure your vote counts by using that marker to its fullest!

Early voting

You can go to your county courthouse or auditor’s office and vote absentee during normal business hours and on Saturday, Nov. 5. Some counties offer satellite locations on certain days as well; check with them for exact dates and places.

“ALL absentee ballots—whether received by mail, dropbox, or in person—are all opened and counted the same,” said Showalter.

  • Only fill out what’s highlighted. But fill out all of that.

Showalter said her office is seeing a lot of people fill out both the driver’s license number and a Voter ID pin number. You only need to fill out one of them.

Dokter said his office is seeing the opposite: People are forgetting to fill out information the election office needs to process a ballot. How to tell what you need to fill out? “The mandatory fields are highlighted on the form,” Dokter said.

  • Sign the back of the envelope.

Dokter said that’s a big one. If you’re early voting, election staff will helpfully remind you. If you mail back an absentee ballot you got at home without the signature, you’ll have to go into the county auditor’s office to fix it.

  • Mailing an absentee ballot back in.

If you requested an absentee ballot and received it (the deadline to request new ones have passed), make sure to send it back in well ahead of the election. It’s a new law this year that ballots must arrive at the county auditor’s office by 8pm on Election Day. Previously, a postmark dated before the election could still make it count. Not anymore. Hundreds of ballots didn’t count in this year’s primary elections because they arrived after the election.

Of note: you can also hand-deliver your absentee ballot to the county auditor’s office or a ballot dropbox outside their office.

Flip over that ballot!

Sure, the races for Iowa governor and Congress are important. But just as important are the state legislators, the local races and, yes, even the judicial retentions.

State legislators aren’t as well known, but they make a lot of decisions that affect you, particularly when it comes to public schools, collective bargaining, abortion rights, taxes, and more. Some of them are even election deniers!

Iowa Supreme Court Justices, who are up for retention, have the power to decide if those laws are constitutional or not. Not as many people vote for these offices, so your vote counts even more here!

Elections aren’t meant to be a pop quiz. So before you hit the polls, go online to find a sample ballot by typing in “sample ballot” and your county, Iowa. (Here’s the link to Black Hawk County, where you can type in your address for your exact ballot.) If any names look unfamiliar, you know who to look up before you go.

And there’s also a constitutional amendment on there this year about gun rights being enshrined even further into the state constitution, which also has flown under the radar. Find out more here.


By Amie Rivers

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