Election season in Iowa has certainly been eventful in 2020, and it isn’t over yet.
First came the Democratic caucuses, which some went so far as to call a “disaster” because the results were not known for a few days. Then we experienced actual disasters, in the forms of a pandemic sweeping across our no mask-mandate state, and a derecho windstorm that scrubbed millions of acres of vegetation and knocked out power, in some cases for weeks.
Now, we’re a study in what-the, as three urban counties sent absentee ballot requests to voters, pre-populated with some information. The courts spoke, and now those counties are scrambling to resend ballot requests forms, un-populated.
This election is as important to me as any I’ve ever participated in. As I prepare to cast my vote for candidates from county sheriff to commander in chief, I want to do this right. I’ve received piles of early ballot request forms, most from organizations I’ve never heard of. These groups imply that voting in person is not safe or that my precinct might be closed because of Covid-19. I must vote early and mail in my ballot, they say, or risk my vote not being counted.
But I don’t intend to miss the experience of showing up at my local precinct on election day and casting my vote in person.
It’s not that I oppose voting by mail or am afraid my vote won’t count if I don’t go in person. Mailing in a ballot doesn’t seem like a terrible idea, no more fraught than putting my credit card bill through the postal chute. I did vote absentee once, andI did that because on primary day I was actually going to be absent.
Maybe I’m naïve but I don’t worry about results from my small county being hacked. And I do have confidence in the U.S. Postal Service, in spite of some dubious moves by the postmaster general recently that might have eliminated some resources. I’m even comfortable driving my ballot to the county courthouse and dropping it in a designated collection box. This would mean a 50-mile round trip, but I do have a car and could make this happen without hardship. In fact, I’ve already requested my absentee ballot as a backup plan, after confirming with our county auditor’s office that the request form I sent them is acceptable. Requesting the absentee ballot doesn’t disqualify me from in-person voting, as long as I don’t use the mail-in ballot. Our county will start sending ballots October 5, and I’ll stow mine someplace safe, where I won’t lose it, just in case. I have until November 2 to get it postmarked and in the pipeline. I understand that I may only vote once.
This brings me to the other issue: Will the polling place be available on election day? We live in a town of about 2,200 people. All of us vote at the same polling place: a former Happy Joe’s pizza joint that now serves as a community center. We’ve voted in that building for every election since 2011. I know the retired ladies who sit at the table, who verify names and addresses of people they’ve known for 50 years. When they get to us newcomers there’s always some dialog among them about who we are and where exactly we live. “Oh yes, that’s Grandma Setzepfandt’s house (note: Grandma S. hasn’t lived in this house since 1964); “Do you live in the top apartment or the bottom?” (note: this hasn’t been a duplex since we converted it back to single family in 2011). By the time this dialog transpires we’ve been checked in, had the ballot explained to us front and back, and peeled from the big roll our sticker that proclaims: I Voted.
I haven’t heard any rumblings so far that our precinct’s poll workers will be opting out this time. But how will they be protected from voters who might be carrying coronavirus and not even know it? Will all of us be safe?
I checked with the county auditor’s office about what Covid precautions will be in place. I can be forgiven if I assumed an activity like voting would answer to a higher standard and that masks would be required for voters and poll workers alike.
Nope. However, the county is supplying all precincts with masks, shields, sanitizer, paper towels and Clorox wipes. There will be signs guiding people to stand 6 feet apart in line. As has been the case since the pandemic began, our governor has trusted Iowa to use “common sense.”
So here goes my attempt at doing just that. I work from home. I rarely leave my home except for a few trips a week to the sole grocery store in town (where we always wear masks although they aren’t required) and once a month to a grocery store in the county seat (this store does require masks). We take our dog on daily long walks in the park, where we rarely pass anybody at all, let alone in close proximity.
The polling place probably won’t be much different from the grocery store on ad-flyer day. I’m not sure how many registered voters are in this precinct, but I do know that in most elections, we’re lucky if 40% show up to vote. Combined with what the county auditor is reporting as a record in absentee ballot requests, I’m gambling that the community center will be a pretty quiet place come November 3.
I realize it could be days before we get results for our local and congressional races, and weeks before we know who will be president. But I won’t wonder about my ballot. I’ll have waited in the socially distanced line, sat at the round table with the cardboard dividers, and fully filled in the ovals with the black Bic Stic pen that I plan to bring from home which is exactly like the one provided. I’ll have slid that ballot through the scanning machine and read the electronic message that I just posted ballot #144, or whatever the case may be.
I’ll have tangible proof.
I’ll wear that “I Voted” sticker on my fall sweater until the adhesive wears off or I have to switch to a warmer garment. Maybe while I’m there I should unspool an extra length of stickers off that big roll. I could hand them around to my friends who voted in a different way than I did. They’ll have earned theirs, too.
Julianne Couch writes fiction, non-fiction and other observations about rural life and culture. Visit her at JulianneCouch.net