The November election is weeks away and no one knows that better than Benton County Auditor Hayley Rippel. As she and her staff work to ensure voting remains safe and secure, Rippel took time out of her schedule to visit with the Vinton Kiwanis on Tuesday to answer questions from members.
“There’s a lot more interest in this election early this year,” Rippel said. “I really cannot put this on COVID-19. It’s all the publicity and news leading up to the election. There’s a lot of misleading conceptions, which only makes our jobs harder when people believe their ballots will just be thrown away or absentees don’t count. I’m glad I was able to talk on that today.”
According to Rippel, absentee forms all require the same information, including your date of birth, driver’s license and where you live. Rippel displayed sample absentee ballots to Kiwanis members during the meeting, including how to seal and mark envelopes. As of Tuesday, it is estimated the Auditor’s Office has received 4,737 absentee ballot requests with three weeks to go before the election. Rippel estimates roughly 8,000 absentee ballots could be requested, double from the 2016 election. Benton County has over 17,000 registered voters living in the county.
The Auditor’s Office follows the administrative rules in the Iowa code when testing their machines to ensure they are counting all ballots and check for overvotes or other human errors with ballots. All results are unofficial until canvassed by the Board of Supervisors the following week of the election, allowing Rippel and staff to ensure all votes are counted and they are able to reach residents with any issues regarding ballots.
“None of our machines are hooked up to the internet for security reasons,” Rippel said. “We update our poll books right up until the night before election so for every precinct we know who voted absentee, who hasn’t returned their ballots. If a resident comes into the polls in person and has a ballot out, we verify with them and have them fill out an oath if they say they lost their ballot in the mail.”
Counties in Iowa use the same voter registration system for all voting to prevent voters to ever be allowed to vote more than once. The machines are tested before the election by the Auditor’s Officer among many duties during this time of year. Another responsibility of the office is to check if a person is deceased before the election and turned in a ballot that the vote is removed. If a seal on an absentee request is tampered, the office must notify the voter and ask if this was done by them. All the while, the Auditor and staff work to maintain privacy and non-partisanship with voting.
“We are overwhelmed and even have a part-time position out to help us, but I haven’t had the time to go through candidates,” Rippel said. “Our office is an important part of the county. We do all the payroll for all employees, bills for the county, I write the minutes for the Board of Supervisors meetings and budgets. Fortunately, I was able to get a grant to pay for two temporary workers. The election is time consuming, but our staff is stepping up. Other offices are seeing that and offering to do jobs for us like take mail or bring us coffee. It’s a team effort.”
Beginning November 2, absentee ballots will be sorted to manage time for the Auditor’s office. A random precinct will be selected later in the week to be hand checked for accuracy. According to Rippel, the county has passed post-election audits since they were implemented. All individual voting precincts are counted before adding absentee ballots for reporting purposes.
Rippel took questions and concerns from members ranging from handicap machines, misconceptions and how other states are handling the election this season.