DES MOINES, Iowa — With the June 2 primary elections a week away, Secretary of State Paul Pate says the pandemic’s new normal is taking absentee ballots to new heights.
“About 230,000 to 250,000 is what we’ve seen returned already,” said Pate, who added there were about 50,000 absentee votes during the 2018 primary race.
Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald says the previous primary record for absentee ballots in Polk County has been shattered. “In 2018 we had this huge turnout, which was 17%, which was very high for a primary. We had about 7,400 ballots back. We already have 36,000 today,” said Fitzgerald.
Noticeable changes are also in store with less polling locations. Pate said, “We’ve been very successful in the early voting absentee, so we know we won’t see massive numbers.” Polk County will have curbside voting available and has gone from around 135 polling locations to 28. “Your location you normally vote at is not going to be where you are voting this time. Very few polling sites will be the same,” Fitzgerald said.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office provided each county with a COVID-19 health kit made of various items, including antiseptic bottles, gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, all to keep voters and the staff members as safe as possible. “A lot of our poll workers are in a very vulnerable community. If they catch COVID, that’s a tough thing for them, so we are also giving every voter their own pen,” Fitzgerald said.
While the chance to mail in a ballot has made many Iowans feel safer during uncertain times, Republican Congressman Steve King, running for re-election in the 4th Congressional District, sees it as unnecessary.
“Paul Pate is my friend. I like Paul Pate, but I disagree with him on this one. If you want to get to the least amount of corruption, you vote on election day only. Real people that walk in with a voter ID. Pate says he’s just doing his job,” said King. “I took an oath of office to the citizens of Iowa, and part of that is make sure they have access to their elections and be safe about it, and we had to make that call.”
Masks are not required for voters but are recommended at polling sites. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by the June 1.