Local auditors see increase in absentee ballots, no concerns for voter fraud

Whether you’re voting early by absentee ballot or in-person on Election Day, local auditors continue to provide safe yet efficient ways to ensure each vote counts in the 2020 General Election.

Offices across the U.S. have seen an increase in absentee ballot requests due to the COVID-19 pandemic compared to previous election years, and Marion County Auditor Jake Grandia says the same can be said for Marion County.

“We have definitely seen an increase in absentee ballots from previous election years,” said Grandia. “Everything is also happening earlier than usual.”

Early voting began Monday, Oct. 5. As of Friday, Oct. 16, the Marion County Auditor’s Office has received approximately 8,198 absentee ballots, according to Grandia. In the 2016 general election, Marion County only had a total of 8,085 absentee ballots, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

In 2016, Mahaska County had a total of 4,867 absentee ballots. As of Thursday, the Mahaska County Auditor’s Office had received 3,206 absentee ballots, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

According to registered voters, an array of parties and organizations have been mailing multiple absentee ballot request forms. Grandia says voters can fill out any of these request forms as long as they provide proper identification.

“Multiple groups sending out [absentee request] forms can cause confusion, but it does not hurt if people return duplicates,” says Grandia. “We have had a lot of duplicates, but we enter the voter information into our system and keep track of what we receive, and they can only get one. We just note a ballot as a duplicate and move on.”

President Donald Trump has claimed an increase in absentee voting will cause widespread voter fraud in the upcoming election. However, Mahaska County Auditor Sue Brown says she has no concerns.

“It has been researched that there’s less than a 1% chance of voter fraud, which is a very, very small number,” says Brown. “In Iowa, we have a system that is used state-wide. Once we receive a voting request, we put it into the system. If we ever receive a second request, we mark it as a duplicate. People can only request one, and there are a lot of checks and balances in place. I do not have a large concern for voter fraud at all.”

Grandia also says he does not have concerns for voter fraud in Marion County.

“I can say that we follow the same processes and rules that we always have,” says Grandia. “When we get requests, each one is entered and maintained in our system, people can track their status, and they can only get one. I don’t feel that that is a major concern in Marion County.”

Voters can track the progress of their absentee ballot after they mail it to their local county auditor’s office on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/absenteeballotstatus/absentee/search. Voters can also call the office to confirm they’ve received their request.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused an increase in voter safety precautions, including social distancing at polling sites, personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. Brown, with the help of her employees, has established a temporary voting shed outside of the Mahaska County Courthouse.

“We were trying to think of the best way to protect voters, protect staff and other staff in the courthouse, just because our lobby isn’t real conducive to social distancing,” says Brown. “So, we were trying to think of ways to go off-site, but not too far away, because that’s hard to staff … so far, I think it’s working very well, and people have been very receptive to it and like it.”

There is also a secure drop box to drop off absentee ballots outside of the Mahaska County auditor’s Office outside the first floor lobby. The Marion County Auditor’s Office does not have a designated drop box, but voters are encouraged to bring their ballots in to the office directly.

Grandia says the office plans to maintain all 17 polling precincts in Marion County for same-day voting on Nov. 3. The Mahaska County Auditor’s Office also plans to maintain all 11 polling precincts, according to Brown.

For further information or additional voting questions, contact Grandia at the Marion County Auditor’s Office at (641) 828-2217 and Brown at the Mahaska County Auditor’s Office at 641-673-7148. As a reminder, the Marion County Auditor’s Office is temporarily located in the former East Elementary School at 614 E. Washington St. in Knoxville.

Emily Hawk can be reached at 641-672-2581 or by email at ehawk@oskyherald.com.

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