Fewer absentee ballots cast in 2022, but fewer rejected than previous midterms

By: - December 1, 2022 5:34 pm

Absentee ballots in a mailbox. (Photo by Jim Small/Arizona Mirror)

As Iowa finalizes its 2022 election results, data shows that fewer ballots were rejected for late arrival in this year’s election than in the last midterm election.

The Iowa State Board of Canvassers certified the results from the Nov. 8 election Thursday, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, although a special canvass will take place in three House districts following recounts there. The data published from this year’s election shows that voter participation overall was down by about 100,000 from 2018, but still was the state’s second-highest turnout in a midterm election.

“I’m very proud of Iowans for stepping up in high numbers once again,” Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “My thanks to our county election officials and 10,000 poll workers across the state. We could not do this without them.”

A majority of those who voted this year, nearly 860,000 Iowans, participated in this year’s midterms by voting on Election Day itself. Absentee voting made up just under one-third of the votes cast. More than 381,000 absentee ballots were requested, and more than 371,000 ballots returned as of Nov. 16, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

In addition to overall participation dropping, absentee-voter participation also fell between the two elections. In 2018, more than 576,000 absentee ballots were requested, and more than 541,000 were returned. The result is that absentee-voter participation dropped by 30% from four years ago. Of the absentee ballots cast this year, 97% were ultimately counted, as compared to 93% in the last midterms.

The decline in absentee voting follows Iowa’s implementation of new laws shortening the window for people to vote absentee. Legislation passed in 2021 cut Iowans’ voting period by nine days – this year, from Oct. 19 through Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8. That change came after Iowa’s Voter ID law shortened the early-voting timeframe from 40 days to 29 days in 2017.

In addition, absentee ballots this year had to arrive at county auditors’ offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day. That represented a change from the previous law, which allowed absentee ballots to be counted as long as they arrived before noon on the Monday following the election.

Some of Iowa’s most populous counties reported rejecting fewer ballots in the 2022 general election than in 2018.

In Johnson County, where more than 25,000 absentee ballots were cast, only 43 ballots were returned between Nov. 9 and noon of Nov. 14 following the election, according to John Deeth, Johnson County Election staff.

Of those ballots, 14 were from domestic voters and were rejected, and 29 ballots were counted from overseas or military voters. In comparison, 125 absentee ballots were returned between Nov. 7 and 13 in 2018, with 50 rejected for “late postmarks or other deficiencies,” while 75 were counted.

Assistant Polk County Auditor Carl Wiederaenders reported that as of Tuesday, 50 ballots were received by their office after this year’s deadline, while in 2018 the office received 233 late ballots. Data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office shows that in Polk County roughly 28% of voters cast absentee ballots in this year’s election.

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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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