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Iowa Voters Can Fix 'Defective' Absentee Ballots That Arrive Before Election Day

Oct 27, 2020

Election officials say the most common mistake Iowans make while voting by mail is forgetting to sign the affidavit envelope before returning their ballot. That prevents a ballot from getting counted.

Failing to seal the envelope, or reopening a sealed envelope, will also get a ballot rejected.

But for absentee ballots received before Election Day, election officials are required by Iowa law to provide an opportunity for voters to fix their ballot or cast a new one.

“Within 24 hours, we send a letter out to them, letting them know that we have a defective ballot,” said Roxanna Moritz, president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors. “And then there’s a couple of opportunities for those people.”

If their ballot is missing a signature, the voter can do one of the following:

  1. Go to the county election office to sign their ballot before 5 p.m. on Nov. 2.
  2. Ask the county auditor to invalidate the ballot and then vote in person early or on Election Day.
  3. Ask the county auditor to invalidate the ballot and send them a new one, though officials recommend fixing ballot problems in person this close to Election Day.

“Ballots that are defective because they’re reopened or not sealed can’t be fixed,” said John Deeth with the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. “The voter needs to vote again.”

If a defective absentee ballot arrives after Election Day, it won’t be counted. That’s why it’s especially important for Iowa voters to make sure they sign and seal their absentee ballot before sending it back to their county auditor.

Iowans have already shattered previous records for early voting and requesting absentee ballots, indicating many Iowans are likely voting absentee for the first time and may be less familiar with the process.

According to data released Monday morning by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, 915,711 Iowans had requested an absentee ballot, and 751,386 Iowans already voted in person or by mail. The previous record for early voting was set in 2012, when nearly 690,000 Iowans voted before Election Day.

The Des Moines Register found Iowa has a low rate of absentee ballot rejections compared to most other states.

Voters returning their completed ballot by mail need to make sure it is postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by the county election office by noon on Nov. 9 for their vote to be counted. Election officials and postal service leaders recommend mailing your ballot as soon as possible so it arrives on time.

Voters can also deliver their completed absentee ballot to their county election office (in person or to a dropbox, if that option is available in your county) until polls close at 9:00 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 3.