Iowa’s new voting rules: What to know as absentee voting requests start

By: - August 30, 2022 3:39 pm

Carroll County voters mark their ballots for the 2022 primary election. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowans are now able to request absentee ballots to vote in the general election, but changes to state voting laws mean Iowans will not be able to cast their votes until later than they may have in the past.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation into law last year that shortened both early and Election Day voting windows in Iowa. The law also changed some rules dealing with returning absentee ballots in person and by mail heading into this year’s midterm election.

Aug. 30 marks 70 days before Election Day. Here’s what you need to know about what’s changed in Iowa’s voting laws, and what you need to know to cast your ballot in the upcoming election:

Are you registered to vote?

Nothing has changed in recent years about Iowa’s voter registration process. The state allows same-day voter registration, which means a person can register when they go to the polls to vote, in addition to earlier registration. Iowans can also register to vote online, or download a form to return to their county auditor.

In Iowa, a qualified voter must be:

  • An Iowa resident.
  • A U.S. citizen.
  • 18 years old by Election Day.

People cannot vote if they are a convicted felon (unless their voting rights have been restored), if they have been judged mentally incompetent to vote by a court, or if they claim the right to vote in any other place.

In order to register, Iowans must provide both proof of ID and proof of residence. This can be provided through an Iowa driver’s license, or by other ID cards such as a U.S. passport, student ID or out-of-state driver’s license. If the photo ID does not contain the voter’s current address, they will be required to bring another document, such as a residential lease or a piece of mail like a utility bill or paycheck, which contains their name and current address.

It’s still possible to register to vote without these documents. Another registered voter from the same precinct can attest for the person registering. Falsely attesting or registering to vote with incorrect information are felony offenses, punishable by fines of more than $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

Iowans can check their voter registration status on the Iowa secretary of state’s website.

How to request an absentee ballot

In 2020, voters might remember receiving an absentee ballot application in the mail. The state saw record voter turnout in that year’s election after Secretary of State Paul Pate mailed all active registered voters request forms for that year’s primary and general elections. But voters should not expect an application form this year: The new voting law prohibits Pate from mailing requests to all registered voters without legislative approval.

Registered voters can request an absentee ballot starting 70 days before an election. The new law has changed the window so that requests must be received by 5 p.m. at least 15 days before the election – this year, by Monday, Oct. 24. This is changed from the previous requirement of requests due 10 days before a general election.

Absentee ballot request forms can be downloaded from the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. They can be returned either in person, or by mail to the voter’s local county auditor’s office. Find your county auditor’s information here.

The ballot request forms require Iowans to provide proof of identification, through either an Iowa driver’s license or non-operator’s ID number, or by a four-digit PIN found on their voter identification card.

While requests can start now, it will be a while before voters receive absentee ballots. County auditors can begin mailing ballots starting Wednesday, Oct. 19.

How do you return absentee ballots?

The new voting law has shortened Iowa’s timeframe for voting. In the upcoming election, Iowans have 20 days to vote – from Oct. 19 through Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8. It’s the latest cut to Iowa’s early voting window, which already fell from 40 days to 29 days in 2017, as required in Iowa’s Voter ID law.

Another change is that all absentee ballots must arrive at the county auditor’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Previously, votes still counted as long as they arrived before noon on the Monday following the election. Ballots can be delivered by mail or in person to the office, or delivered in a drop box. Each county has one drop box for absentee ballots.

There are also new restrictions on who can return mailed ballots. No longer can a neighbor or friend drop off your ballot for you. Only the voter, a housemate or immediate family member or caregiver can send in a ballot by mail or deliver it directly to the county auditor’s office. There are exceptions for people with disabilities, who can designate a “delivery agent” outside of their relatives or household to return their ballot.

Iowa also offers early voting in person. Voters can cast ballots at their county auditor’s office, and satellite voting locations can be requested by petition. These in-person locations can be open for the 20-day absentee voting period, up until the day before the election.

How do you vote on Election Day?

Of course, Iowans can head to their precinct location on Election Day to cast their ballot. Polls previously were open until 9 p.m. but now close an hour earlier as required by law. Voting locations will be open from 7 a.m. through 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Iowa passed Voter ID requirements in 2017, which means registered voters must also prove their identity before casting their ballot in-person. Valid forms of identification include an Iowa driver’s license, a U.S. passport or a signed Iowa Voter Identification Card. If a voter does not have a form of identification with them at the voting site, they can still cast their ballot if another registered voter at the precinct attests for them.

Not yet comfortable voting inside or have a disability that prevents you from entering a precinct site? Iowa offers curbside voting. Voters can call their election office and two precinct officials will come out to their car and help the person vote. While no advance notice is necessary for curbside voting, the Iowa Secretary of State office recommends calling ahead or bringing another person with you so officials can assist you quickly.

Find your precinct site here.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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