Elections 101: Absentee Voting - Part 2

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.

Any voter who has ever voted absentee may have wondered “what do they do with my absentee ballot?” or “when will my ballot be counted?”
In article #4 in this “Election 101” series of six articles related to the election process, Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer explains returning absentee ballots, how absentee ballots are stored and secured, and the opening and counting process followed by the Absentee and Special Voter Precinct Board on Election Day.

Who can return a voter’s mailed absentee ballot?
A voter who votes absentee by mail can return their absentee ballot to the Auditor’s office either through the U.S. Postal Service or by hand. A voter may choose to have another person deliver their ballot to the Auditor’s office; however, who can return a ballot for a voter is restricted to someone living in the voter’s household or an immediate family member as defined in Iowa Code section 53.33.

A voter who is blind or physically disabled may designate a delivery agent to return their voted absentee ballot. The voter must complete and sign a Designation of Delivery Agent form, which is mailed with the ballot and printed on the back of the Absentee Voting Instructions. The delivery agent has many responsibilities. The agent must do all of the following: complete the receipt at the bottom of the Delivery Agent form and leave it with the voter, return the ballot and designation form in person to the Auditor’s office, provide ID to the Auditor’s office, and upon delivery to the Auditor’s office complete the bottom of the Delivery Agent form by signing a statement under penalty of perjury. A delivery agent is not allowed to use a drop box or the U.S. Postal Service to return a ballot for a voter.

Auditor Beyer notes that Allamakee County does not have an election-specific drop box for ballots. Best practice for ballots returned by hand is to take them to the Auditor’s office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Allamakee Auditor’s office will also be open Saturday, June 1 from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. for the June 4 Primary Election.

Health Care Facilities
The Auditor sends a bipartisan team to each Health Care Facility (HCF) for all regular elections at a date and time determined with the Activity Director of each HCF. The Auditor and Activity Director work together to get forms completed for all voters who wish to vote. The Auditor’s office prepares an absentee packet for each HCF voter for the team to deliver.

If requested by the voter, the HCF team can assist a voter with reading and/or marking their ballot, which requires the voter and HCF team signing a Voter Requesting Assistance form. If assistance is requested in marking the ballot, one member of the bipartisan team marks the ballot and the other ensures the voters desired vote is correctly marked. The HCF team makes sure all ballot envelopes are sealed and signed and returns all ballots to the Auditor’s office to be received and secured until Election Day.

Unsigned envelopes
The Auditor’s office reviews all absentee envelopes for signatures. If an envelope is missing a signature, the Auditor’s staff calls, if a number is available, and/or mails a letter to the voter to give them an opportunity to come in and sign. Other options for a voter with an unsigned envelope include having the first ballot voided and another one mailed, if time allows, or having the first ballot voided so the voter may go to the polls to vote on Election Day.

How are ballots handled and secured by the Auditor’s office?
Absentee voters may wonder what happens to their ballot after voting either in person at the Auditor’s office or by mail. Reconciliation for both unvoted and voted ballots is performed at the end of every day by office staff.

Unvoted ballots - An ongoing count of unvoted ballots is kept. At the end of each day staff uses the number at the start of the day minus the number on a report showing how many of each ballot style were used that day, to get the ending total of unvoted ballots. A hand count of remaining ballots is done. The hand count should match the calculated ending total of unvoted ballots.

Voted ballots - Voted ballots are also reconciled daily. As voted ballots are either voted in the office or mailed ballots are returned, they are all accounted for as “Received” in the voter system. Each day a report is run to show how many voted ballots were received, either by mail or voted in office.

Auditor staff hand counts ballot envelopes received that day. The physical count of ballot envelopes must match the number on the report as “Received”.

Once the total of received ballots is verified each day, the ballot envelopes and the report for that day are locked in the ballot cage until Election Day. Only auditor’s office staff has access to the key for the cage.

When are Absentee ballots counted?
The Auditor hires the bipartisan Absentee and Special Voters Precinct Board, also called the ASVP or Absentee Board. The Absentee Board comes to the Auditor’s office on Election Day and the Auditor’s office delivers the ballots to the team with a report showing how many ballots are being delivered to them. The Absentee Board counts the ballots to verify the count agrees with the report and verifies all envelopes are signed by the voters. The Auditor’s office also verifies signature when ballots are received, so this check by the Absentee Board is a double check because ballots in unsigned envelopes cannot be counted.

After the Absentee Board verifies all envelopes are signed, they begin opening the envelopes and removing the yellow secrecy sleeve with the ballot inside. They set the secrecy sleeves aside with the ballot still inside. At this point the envelope with the voter’s name is separated from the ballot, so votes remain confidential. After a good number of secrecy sleeves are separated from the envelopes, one or two Absentee Board members may start removing the ballots from the Secrecy Sleeves. Once a good number of ballots are removed from secrecy sleeves, one of the team starts feeding the ballots through the vote counting machine.

The Absentee Board manages the number of envelopes and ballots carefully throughout the entire process. Typically, ballot envelopes are bundled in 50s, while secrecy sleeves and ballots may be divided into two groups of 25. This is a way for the team to do periodic checks during the process to make sure the number of envelopes opened matches the number of ballots.

How can a voter confirm their ballot was received by the Auditor’s office?
No matter which method a voter uses to return their mailed absentee ballot to the Auditor’s office, a voter can confirm their ballot was received by going to https://sos.iowa.gov/ and clicking Track My Absentee Ballot on the right side of the screen. The voter must enter their first and last name, date of birth and zip code.

Auditor Beyer encourages voters who plan to return a ballot by mail to do so as soon as they receive and vote the ballot. Any questions about the process can be answered by the Auditor’s office at 563-568-3522.

Questions? The Auditor is 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 your trusted source for all election questions and information. Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer warns against believing everything read on social media and the internet as it may not be true, and says 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.