Early voting for the 2021 city and school elections begins Wednesday, and ballots are expected to be available at the 99 county auditors’ offices at that time.
Bremer County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Shelley Wolf said in a news release the votes can be cast at the auditor’s office during normal business hours of 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 1.
Wolf’s staff will have all ballots available for each city and school district, and those voting in-person must have their ID – a driver’s license, non-operator’s ID card or the voter ID PIN card issued by the auditor’s office.
Ballots also are available to be mailed, but the auditor’s office must receive the request in writing by 5 p.m. Oct. 18, which is 15 days prior to election day. Request forms are available at the auditor’s office or by going to the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at sos.iowa.gov and downloading one.
The Wednesday opening of early voting is a change in election law made during the most recent session of the Iowa Legislature, shortening the window from 29 days in 2020 to 20 days now, according to a brochure provided by Wolf that spells out the changes.
The ballot request deadline, as well as the advance voting registration deadline, also are changes from previous rules, which used to be 11 days on non-general elections and 10 for general elections, according to the brochure. However, the exception is if a voter is admitted to a health care facility, a dementia-specific assisted living program or a hospital within 14 days of election day, for which they may request an absentee ballot by telephone no later than 4 p.m. on election day.
Additionally, Iowa voters still can register to vote when they cast their ballots in person on election day or when they do their in-person absentee ballot at the auditor’s office, according to the brochure. Voters must provide their ID, as well as a proof of address – for example, a utility bill or bank statement.
Absentee ballots mailed to the voters must be received by the auditor’s office by 8 p.m. Nov. 2, which is the new closing of the polls. In-person voting on election day may be done at the polling places starting at 7 a.m. and close one hour sooner than in previous elections, as part of the new law.
There is a new, separate drop box specifically for ballots on the north side of the Bremer County Courthouse next to the general business drop box.
The new deadline of close of polling also is a change in Iowa election law. It used to be that absentee ballots could be postmarked on election day and received by the following Monday.
However, the postmarks and barcodes printed by the U.S. Postal Service on the envelopes no longer make the ballots eligible except if the voter is in the Safe at Home program or if the vote is from a member of the military or is a citizen living overseas, which in those cases, the ballot must be received by noon the Monday following the election, according to the flier.
The outside affidavit envelope must be signed by the voter. If the auditor’s office receives an unsigned ballot, a member of the staff will contact the voter, and they can either request a replacement ballot to be returned by 8 p.m. on election day, vote at the polls on election day or sign the affidavit in person at the auditor’s office no later than 8 p.m. on election day.
Also, returning absentee ballots can only be done by the voter themselves, but they can assign someone who lives in their household or an immediate family member to do so, or the two special precinct election officials who would deliver the ballot to a health care center can handle it, or assign a delivery agent if the voter is blind or has another disability that prevents them from taking or mailing the ballot.
According to the election change brochure, the delivery agent must be a registered voter in Iowa but cannot be the employer or agent of the employer of the voter, an officer or agent of the voter’s labor union, or an actual or implied agent for a political party, candidate or committee.
The delivery agent must complete and sign a designation form that is prescribed by the Secretary of State. That person may not return more than two ballots per election, must fill out a receipt and return it to the voter, and must collect the designation form with the ballot at the same time and deliver both to the county auditor’s office simultaneously.
The agent also must deliver the ballot in person to the auditor and not use the mail or a drop box, provide the auditor the same ID they would at the polls, provide the full name of the voter with their address, phone number and email address, if applicable, and sign a statement certifying, under penalty of perjury, that the agent has complied with the law.