Absentee voting set to break records
Absentee voting for the general election is an entirely different affair in Jefferson County than two decades ago, according to county auditor Scott Reneker.
“When I started 20 years ago, we’d get about 100 early ballots,” he said. “Absentee voting was only for those who were going to be absent on Election Day.”
That number has mushroomed in subsequent years, and Reneker said this year as much as one-third of the county population will cast their ballot before Nov. 6. Essentially “anybody and everybody” can vote early, he said, due to different interpretations of avoting laws.
“Activists and the political parties have been successful at promoting it as a method of voting,” he said. “If someone is inclined to vote for a candidate, the parties want to get that vote locked in.”
With two weeks until Election Day, Reneker has received 3,124 requests for ballots, 2,116 of which have already been cast. Since absentee voting began Sept. 27 in Iowa, he said his office has been receiving about 130 ballots a day, half of which have been cast in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Reneker said there “hasn’t typically been a line yet.”
In 2008, 4,100 residents cast their vote early, up from 3,451 cast in 2004.
“I expect we’ll surpass that,” said Reneker. “It’s an upward trend.”
County residents can cast their general election ballots in person during office hours 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday as well as from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 3 at the auditor’s office in the courthouse.
A unique Iowa law will offer Jefferson County voters the choice of two extra voting sites — at Fairfield Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store or at the Argiro Student Center on the Maharishi University of Management campus.
The law allows anyone who garners signatures of 100 county voters to choose a specific site for a satellite absentee voting station. Election officials are then required to hold voting at the location for at least one day within 40 days before the Nov. 6 election.
In Fairfield, Reneker said representatives of Obama for America filed the petitions for the two satellite stations.
In his experience, Reneker said, “Satellite voting is more of a strategy of the Democratic Party.”
He said representatives from the Romney campaign contacted the auditor’s office with questions.
“We told them early voting is available at the courthouse, and we’re a small community,” he said. “They were satisfied with that.”
All residents of Fairfield and of Center and Buchanan Townships can vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday or Thursday at the Argiro Student Center Conference Room on the M.U.M. campus.
All Jefferson County residents can vote between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. this Saturday or next in the Fairfield Hy-Vee Club Room.
Satellite voting was held at the Argiro center in 2008, but Hy-Vee declined a petition to have voting at the store at that time. Store director Alan Shank said he authorized use of the club room this election. He said since the event is open to everyone, not just one political party, it complies with store policy. Shank said he’ll post signs on the doors with information about the event, but will not promote the event further.
Reneker said the Obama for America representatives who petitioned for the satellite sights are promoting the events. He said they promoted the M.U.M. event in 2008, resulting in a “big crowd all day long.”
A third petition requested a satellite station at The Golden Dome Market, also on the M.U.M. campus, which Reneker turned down. He said upon completing a sight inspection, he found the location unsuitable due to handicap accessibility requirements and lack of space.
“It would be hard to accommodate a voting station physically in the space of the building,” he said. “The management at the store agreed with me.”
The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is 5 p.m. Nov. 2. The Absentee Ballot Request Form is available at the auditor’s office and online.