Elections 101: Absentee Voting - Part 1

Elections 101 is a weekly series of articles offering a variety of information regarding elections in Iowa and Allamakee County prior to this year’s June 4 Primary Election. The information is being provided courtesy of Allamakee County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Denise Beyer.

In this third of six articles leading up to the Primary election, you will learn about the absentee voting process. With the Primary Election in less than one month, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, voters may be considering whether they will vote at the polls, or take advantage of the opportunity to vote prior to Election Day, either in person at the auditor’s office, or by requesting a ballot by mail.

In Iowa, both of these methods of voting prior to Election Day are called Absentee Voting. Many other states have different terminology for voting prior to Election Day, but if you live in Iowa and hear the term “absentee”, it refers to voting prior to Election Day, regardless of the method.

Absentee voting for the Primary
Iowa law allows for “no excuse” absentee voting. This means any voter can vote absentee, if they choose, without an “excuse”. The timeline for absentee voting for the Primary election is as follows:
• Tuesday, March 26, 70 days prior to Election Day, was when voters could start submitting Absentee Ballot Request forms to the Auditor’s office, to receive a ballot by mail. Even though requests can be received up to 70 days prior to the election, law says ballots can start being mailed only 20 days before the election.
• Wednesday, May 15, the 20th day before Election Day, is the first day that ballots may be mailed to voters and is also the first day voters may vote in-person at the Auditor’s office.
• Monday, May 20, 15 days before Election Day, is the deadline for a voter to request an absentee ballot to be mailed. The Auditor’s office is open until 5 p.m. this day. Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer reminds all eligible voters that May 20 is also the last day to pre-register for the Primary Election, to have their name in the voter registry at the polls.
• Saturday, June 1, the last Saturday before Election Day, the Auditor’s office is required to be open for eight hours. The Allamakee County Auditor’s office will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for in-person absentee voting.
• Monday, June 3, the day before the election, is the last day to vote absentee in-person at the Auditor’s office. Election Day, voters must vote at their assigned precinct.
• Tuesday, June 4 at 8:00 p.m. is the deadline for the Auditor’s office to receive and count an absentee ballot that was mailed. See “Returning a ballot and the deadline for counting” section below.

How does a voter request an absentee ballot by mail?
As stated above, a voter may choose to vote prior to Election Day by one of two methods - in person at the Auditor’s office or by requesting a ballot by mail. To request a ballot by mail, a voter must submit a completed Absentee Ballot Request (ABR) form to the Auditor’s office beginning 70 days before the election, up through May 20 at 5:00 p.m. Voters should double-check that all required fields are filled in.

Specifically for the Primary, political party must be marked. The ABR form to print and complete can be found at https://allamakeecountyelections.iowa.gov/ or by scanning the QR code at the end of this article. Completed forms can be mailed to Allamakee County Auditor, 110 Allamakee Street, Waukon, IA 52172.

Proper assembly of a ballot returned by mail
Instructions are placed in the delivery envelope to voters who request an absentee ballot by mail. Also in the delivery envelope are the ballot, a yellow “secrecy sleeve” and the Return Affidavit envelope. The yellow secrecy sleeve is open on two adjacent sides and is clearly labeled Secrecy Sleeve on the outside.

The voter should vote the ballot and fold the ballot in half if letter size, or in thirds if legal size. Next, the voter is to put the folded ballot in the yellow “secrecy sleeve” and put the secrecy sleeve in the Return Affidavit envelope. The very important final steps are to seal the Return Affidavit envelope and sign the envelope.

Returning a ballot and the deadline for counting
Once a voter has the Return Affidavit envelope stuffed, sealed and signed, they can return the ballot via U.S. Postal Service, if time allows, or deliver it by hand to the Auditor’s office up until 8:00 p.m. Election Day. Postage for all Return Affidavit ballot envelopes is pre-paid by the Auditor’s office.

There is not a ballot specific drop box in Allamakee County that is strictly for ballots.

Iowa Code §53.33 states who can return a ballot on behalf of a voter. If a voter wishes to have someone return their ballot by hand for them and has questions related to who can return their ballot, they should contact the Auditor’s office at 563-568-3522.

No matter how the ballot is returned, the deadline for the ballot to be received and counted is the close of polls on Election Day, which is 8:00 p.m. There is no longer a postmark date consideration. The exception to this is Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters and Safe-at-Home voters, whose ballots can be counted if received by noon the Monday following the election if they are postmarked June 3 or before.

Fixing a deficient or defective absentee ballot
As stated above, it is important to follow all instructions when voting and returning an absentee ballot. Two common issues seen by the Auditor’s office are ballots missing signatures or ballots where the envelope has been ripped open and taped back shut.

SIGNATURE REQUIRED: Sign the highlighted yellow box on the envelope. If the ballot is received by the Auditor’s office without a signature on the outer envelope, the Auditor must contact the voter. They will call, if a phone number is available, and send a letter. The ballot cannot be counted until the signature is obtained on the envelope.

POSSIBLE TAMPERING: A Return Affidavit envelope that has been torn open and taped back shut must be handled as “defective” by the Auditor’s office staff because they do not know who opened and taped the envelope, and it could have been tampered with. Auditor staff will call, if a number is available, and send a letter to offer the voter options to remedy the defective ballot.

Auditor Beyer encourages voters to double-check that they have signed their envelope before returning it and to call the Auditor’s office if they have to reopen their sealed return envelope for any reason.

Voting absentee in person
A voter who wishes to vote absentee in person in the Auditor’s office will show their ID and fill out a ballot request form, which is on the ballot envelope. The voter will sign the envelope in two places - once to acknowledge requesting a ballot and once to confirm eligibility to vote in the election. After voting, the voter will place their ballot in a yellow secrecy sleeve and then in the ballot envelope, seal it and return it to the staff person.

Stay tuned for the fourth of six articles next week where you will learn how absentee ballots are secured after they are voted, and when they are opened and counted.

Questions? Ask your trusted source
Anyone with questions regarding this topic or any other election law or process should call the Allamakee County Auditor’s office at 563-568-3522. The Auditor’s office should be the trusted source for all election questions and information. Auditor Denise Beyer warns against believing everything you read on social media and the internet. Even TV and radio news can be confusing or misleading as they often talk about what is happening in other states, or issues and topics that do not apply to Iowa elections. Use your County Auditor as your trusted source of all election information.