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Iowa

Over the past two years, Iowa’s state officials and government took steps backward to reduce access to the ballot in 2020 and 2021. If voter confidence in the integrity of our elections is a priority to legislators, we suggest they turn their attention to instead focusing on transitioning to risk-limiting audits and improving ballot tracking to decrease rejection rates and increase voter confidence, rather than reducing access to the ballot. As always, we stress that policy is important, but it is just as important that it is implemented well.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

Iowa can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by creating a permanent absentee voting list, where voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply. States experience significant savings by cutting down on the requests they need to process; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.
Iowa can increase voter confidence by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package by improving its current ballot tracking system. Advanced ballot tracking systems can proactively notify voters when their ballot takes a new step in the path from being sent to them to finally being counted (or rejected). If a ballot is rejected, these ballot tracking tools can be used as another method to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope.
Reversing the 2021 restriction that bars county election officials from sending out absentee applications will increase local autonomy by devolving decision making down to the local level and increase access to the ballot.
Creating an online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot that feeds directly into the voter registration system is an important step to help verify addresses, collect contact information and to remove administrative steps to process a large amount of requests. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register, current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
Offering in-person methods for voters to return ballots are a cost-effective way to reduce strain on the postal system and decrease reject rates. Lifting the restrictions on drop boxes put into place in 2020 will increase options for voters. Additionally, we highly recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling and vote centers, as well as other locations deemed necessary by the clerk.
Getting rid of postmark acceptance for ballots, as Iowa put into law in 2021, will likely double ballot rejection rates, as accepting Election Day postmarks is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half. Reinstituting the practice (and making it so ballots postmarked on election day, not just the day before, are counted) will prevent large numbers of voters not having their voices heard.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day helps states get faster election results and gives more time for voters to cure any errors. Iowa’s temporary extension giving three days of preprocessing was a fantastic step, but the change was not made permanent. NVAHI has found that seven days of preprocessing is ideal and suggests that as the standard. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.
Voters should have sufficient time to correct any issues with their ballot In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected. Iowa’s current cure deadline of one day before election days leaves many voters behind. We recommend allowing voters to cure any issues for 5 days after the election.

Recent Legislation

As of May 21 2021

Iowa in recent years has had leaders roll back its existing policies and limit voter access. While relatively only technical statewide changes were made in response to the pandemic in 2020, counties made bigger changes. The secretary of state fought against them, suing counties for sending out semi-pre-filled absentee applications to registered voters. Iowa counties had had drop boxes for years prior to the pandemic. In response to the increase in absentee ballot requests, counties began creating more drop boxes, and in response the Secretary of State created new rules to ensure most of these could not accept ballots.

In 2021, leaders continued this unfortunate trajectory, altering existing election policies to limit access to the ballot. SF413 severely cuts back the amount of time Iowans have to vote early in person, request an absentee ballot, and be sent a ballot. Further, it banned election officials from proactively sending out absentee applications (or ballots) altogether and got rid of postmark acceptance (accepting ballots that arrive shortly after election day that were postmarked as having been sent on time). It’s not all bad news, though: the state codified its existing statewide ballot tracking system in SF568.