How to vote in Iowa: A complete voter guide

How to vote in Iowa: A complete voter guide

(Canva photo)

By Sophie Boudreau

June 12, 2024

Whether you’re a first-time voter or a seasoned vet, voting can still be confusing—but we’ve broken down all you need to know about how to vote in Iowa.

Check out our voter guide below to review important dates, instructions for registering to vote (or updating your existing registration!), info for voting early or by mail, and the basics of how to navigate Election Day. There’s even an FAQ section to address everything you always wanted to know about voting but were too afraid to ask.

Here’s how to vote in Iowa:

THE BASICS

Iowa’s general election is Tuesday, November 5, 2024.

Even if you didn’t vote in the June primary election, you can still vote in November.

MUST-KNOW DATES

October 16: Earliest allowed date for in-person early absentee voting

October 21: Last day to register to vote online or by mail

October 21: Mail-in application deadline for Iowa absentee ballots

REGISTER TO VOTE

Before you can vote, you’ve gotta be registered!

CHECK REGISTRATION STATUS: 

Visit the Iowa Secretary of State website to look up your registration status. You can search by general info like name and zip code. Vote.org also offers a 30-second search feature to confirm your registration status if you’re in a hurry.

HOW AND WHERE TO REGISTER: 

Not yet registered or need to update your existing registration? You’ve got time, but make sure to review the detailed deadline info below.

Online with ID: If you have a valid Iowa driver’s license or state ID, you can register online by visiting the Iowa Online Voter Registration page.

Without ID: If you don’t have an Iowa driver’s license or state ID, you are still eligible to vote if you are an Iowa resident, at least 18 years of age by Election Day, a US citizen, not currently serving a sentence in jail or prison, and have not been deemed incompetent by a court.

With or without ID, print and fill out this form and mail it back to your local county auditor, who can be identified here. Mail-in registration must be postmarked at least 15 days before the election (more on that below!). You can also register to vote in-person at your local county auditor.

WHEN TO REGISTER: 

  • Online voter registration deadline: If there are 15 or more days before the election, you can register online (with a valid driver’s license or state ID) or by mail. Fifteen days before the general election is Monday, October 21.
  • In-person voter registration deadline: Within 14 days of the election (including on Election Day itself), your only option is to register in-person at a local polling place. “Within 14 days” of this year’s general election is Tuesday, October 22, or later.
  • Same-day voter registration: To register same-day, you’ll need to visit your local polling place and provide a photo ID and proof of residence in the state of Iowa. Find detailed day-of registration instructions, including acceptable forms of ID, here.

VOTE

You’re registered! Now it’s time to make a plan to vote. Here are your options:

EARLY VOTING

In Iowa, early voting can be done with an absentee ballot. This means you’ll either request your absentee ballot in advance and return it prior to Election Day (more on that below!) OR visit your local county auditor in person.

In-person early voting: To vote early in person, visit your local county auditor during open hours prior to Election Day, receive and complete the ballot on-site, and return it immediately. You cannot take your ballot home with you if you choose this option. In-person early voting begins no sooner than 20 days before the election. Contact your local auditor’s office for details and office hours.

VOTING ABSENTEE/EARLY VOTING BY MAIL

All registered Iowa voters have the right to vote by mail—you don’t have to provide a reason or prove that you’ll be out of town. Simply preferring to vote by mail is reason enough.

To register as an absentee voter, fill out this form and return it by mail to your local county auditor’s office no later than 15 days before the election. If you wait too long to return your absentee application, there may not be enough time for you to receive and return your ballot before Election Day.

To return your completed ballot, drop it in the mail using the provided prepaid envelope, hand-deliver it to the county auditor’s office, or designate someone to return your ballot if applicable.

Absentee or ballots must be received by the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. An exception: mailed (not emailed or faxed) overseas civilian and military ballots must be postmarked by the Monday before Election Day and received by the county auditor by noon on the Monday following Election Day.

ELECTION DAY VOTING

Voting in person on Election Day requires a bit of planning, but you’ll also probably get a nifty “I Voted” sticker!

To vote in person, double check your polling location by visiting the Iowa Secretary of State website. Your location might be a local church, school, or other community building close to your registered address.

HOW TO VOTE:

Get in line and stay in line—even if you’re still in line when the polls technically close. When it’s your turn, a poll worker will ask you to provide a valid Iowa photo ID, passport, tribal ID, or military/veteran ID.

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can likely still vote, but you’ll need to have another registered Iowa voter attest for your identity or provide election registration documents to prove your residence and identity.

A volunteer worker will hand you your ballot. Take this ballot into an empty voting booth and completely fill out each bubble with the pen provided, both front and back! You’ll then place your ballot into the provided privacy sleeve and head to the tabulation machine, where you’ll simply slide the ballot (not the sleeve) into a slot. Alternatively, some polling locations have a simple ballot drop-box to collect completed ballots.

That’s it!

WHEN TO VOTE:

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. local time.

Again, if you are already in line when polls close, you have the right to vote. Stay in line.

DISTRICTS AND BALLOTS

While everyone will select from the same presidential and statewide candidates on Election Day, every district’s ballot will also include local candidates. Do your research before arriving at the polls so you feel prepared to confidently cast your vote. Thankfully, ballot previews exist so voters know exactly what to expect when they arrive at the polls.

To preview your personalized local ballot, head to the Iowa County Auditor tool and find your county auditor’s website. Once there, you’ll be able to look at a sample ballot and carefully review each candidate or proposal well ahead of Election Day.

VOTER RIGHTS, RULES, AND FAQ

I’m a college student. Should I vote in my hometown or register with my college address?

This is a personal decision. You may either register to vote at your school address or remain registered in your home state/county. Just remember that you can only be registered to vote in one location, so be sure to update your voter registration information well in advance of Election Day.

If you can’t make it home to vote and choose to remain registered in your hometown, request a mail-in or absentee ballot ahead of the appropriate deadline and return it on time so your vote is counted.

What if I don’t have a ride to the polls on Election Day?

If you need a ride to the polls on Election Day, be sure to check your public transportation options. Some cities, including Des Moines and Dubuque, offer free bus rides to and from polling locations on Election Day.

How do I know if my mail-in ballot was received?

You can track your ballot via the Iowa Secretary of State website.

Can I bring my kid with me into the voting booth?

Yes. There are no rules against bringing a child into the voting booth with you. Of course, make sure your child is quiet and respectful as others vote.

What if I make a mistake on my ballot? Can I have a re-do?

Yes, so long as you have not yet submitted your ballot. If voting in-person, simply tell the poll worker that you’d like a new ballot. They will “spoil” your first ballot by tearing it up and providing you with a new one. You cannot, however, request a new ballot once you’ve mailed in an absentee ballot or turned in your in-person ballot to be counted.

Can I wear political gear to the polls?

Wearing buttons, hats, shirts, or other garments advertising your preferred candidates is considered “electioneering,” along with discussing your voting preferences with fellow voters at the polling location. Just don’t do it.

What if the poll workers say I’m not eligible to vote, but I believe I am?

Ask for a provisional ballot. Per the ACLU, all voters are entitled to a provisional ballot, which will require election officials to look into your voter eligibility status after Election Day and count your ballot if you are indeed qualified.

What is voter intimidation?

Voter intimidation is prohibited by federal law and involves the attempted interference with a person’s ability to freely vote. Examples include displaying false signage about voter requirements, impersonating a poll worker to spread false information, and aggressively questioning voters regarding their citizen or voting right status. Most states also have laws against political campaigning within a certain distance of a polling location.

If you believe you’ve experienced voter intimidation, report it to your local election office and call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (English) or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (Spanish). You can find more information, including hotline options for additional languages, here.

  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

CATEGORIES: VOTING

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