On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, at the Hiawatha Community Center in Hiawatha, Iowa, poll worker Dan Kaspari of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, signs the zeroing tape printed from the voting machine. Poll workers arrive early to set up polling booths, voting machines, and other necessary equipment in advance of the primary election.
Several dozen people arrived at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids in late September 2020 to begin training as early voting workers for the 2020 election. For decades, several of them had worked as “PEOs,” or precinct election officials. Some had never worked an election before, but were highly qualified and searching for part-time work.
They were all ready to begin the huge task at hand: running a month-long early voting location during a period of intense political polarization. They also did it during a pandemic, when there was no vaccination available.
They sat six feet apart behind rows of folding tables in a shopping mall food court and a vast vehicle storage garage, working hard. They wore masks for hours at a time, with safety glasses or face shields added sometimes. Some of them had specialized jobs, such as assisting people who needed to alter their addresses or register for the first time. They took extra care to congratulate first-time voters, particularly those who were eligible for the first time as a result of the governor’s executive order restoring voting rights to numerous people who had previously been convicted of felonies.
Some of the workers donned fluorescent vests and served voters at the curb, racking up tens of thousands of steps on their activity trackers per day. Some people worked as “cleaners,” sterilizing each table and booth after each use.
They established nonpartisan teams to escort objects that needed to be secured and had a clear chain of custody. They moved long lines, ensuring that every eligible voter who arrived before the polls closed received a ballot. On their biggest day, they worked full-time hours and served over 1400 voters. As one of their leaders, I was astounded by how dedicated those individuals were to the process of running a polling station properly.
Almost a year after that heated and at times demanding election cycle, several of those early voting workers have gone one step farther in their commitment. They’ve come back to serve you once more.
I’ve also agreed to return to my interim position as a team leader, where I’ll be part of a bipartisan duet assisting with early voting operations. I’d like to invite you to come take part in the early voting process and cast your vote in the forthcoming municipal and school board elections.
In-person early voting will begin on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at two locations, like it did last year. During regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., voters can cast ballots at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center. We’re also returning to Lindale Mall, this time running between the children’s play area and the old Sears store on the east end of the building. Lindale will be accessible to the public for voting seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. For those who are unable to enter the building due to a disability, curbside voting will be available at both locations.
Early voting locations will be open to all Linn County residents who are eligible to vote. A proper form of identification is required by Iowa law. While many people produce their Iowa driver’s license or their United States passport, some other forms of identification are also acceptable. A complete list of approved types of photo ID can be found on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.iowa.gov. The same list of valid IDs will be posted in a public location at early voting locations, along with other critical information and a sample ballot, exactly like at your local Election Day polling station.
In truth, much about early voting in person is similar to voting on Election Day. Workers set up the same booths and table dividers so that voters could take their time and concentrate solely on their ballots. All balloting is done on paper, just like on Election Day.
In-person early voting follows the exact standards of accommodation mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, just as it does on Election Day. These requirements go beyond parking spaces and accessibility ramps; every possible location is inspected by a permanent elections staff person who uses a specific checklist to assure compliance. A door, for example, must open with no more than five pounds of force, and any wheelchair ramp must be no higher than an 8.3 percent grade. If any of these items, or others, fail to satisfy ADA requirements, Elections Services will work with the facility to correct the problem.
For voters who have difficulties viewing and/or marking a paper ballot, Election Services will bring an ADA-accessible touch screen ballot marking machine to each early voting location. These machines let users to make ballot selections on a touch screen, with the option of using auditory and tactile aids if needed. The machine will print the voter’s choices on their paper ballot when they have been finished and confirmed by the voter. The paper ballot will then be scanned in the same machine as the hand-marked ballots. I’ve used this machine before and heartily recommend it to anyone who is concerned about filling out a ballot by hand.
The assurance of a pressure-free voting atmosphere is perhaps the most essential way an in-person early voting site replicates your local Election Day polling place. The same rules of conduct as those set forth by Iowa law apply. This includes a 300-foot radius around the building where campaign activity is prohibited. It also means that your election workers are working hard to maintain a “politics-free” environment, gently discouraging any conversation or other activity that could influence a voter’s decision.
Some might find it ironic that the one venue where the outcome of a long and arduous campaign is decided is maintained absolutely free of political interference. It is, in my opinion, critical to maintaining voter faith. Regardless of political affiliation, their resolve as election workers to leave even their strongest ideas at the door helps them create profound trust with one another. A voting location is one of the few remaining examples of people from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum peacefully cooperating with one another, and these workers do it admirably.
I could sing the glories of Linn County’s election officials all day long, but I’d rather you do it yourself. Consider voting early at one of our in-person early voting locations when making your election plans for November 2. For additional information, go to www.linncountyelections.org and meet the folks who are so excited to serve Linn County voters.