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Iowa political groups, parties bank on midterm voter turnout

This article was originally published in The Daily Iowan.

With the knowledge that midterm elections traditionally see a lower turnout, Republicans and Democrats are encouraging their respective voters to cast their ballots on or before Nov. 8.

As of Nov. 1, the Secretary of State’s office reported that 296,548 Iowans requested an absentee ballot for the upcoming election. At the same time in 2018, 518,363 absentee ballots were requested.

Politicians and voters alike say the turnout rate results from a lack of information about the contested races. Though the election won’t decide who controls the White House, the seats on Tuesday’s ballot are key to shaping policies at the state and federal levels. Politicians are hoping to combat this turnout trend and drive people to the polls.

Terese Grant, president of the Iowa League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting voter rights, said the midterms are important because the results determine who will represent Iowa in Washington D.C. and who will make state laws in Des Moines. These seats don’t tend to be a high priority for typical voters, she said.

Grant said the league works to ensure people are educated about the candidates and understand how to vote.

“Once they have all the tools that they need, then it’s up to the voter to get themselves there,” Grant said.

Grant said the League of Women Voters treats every election with the same importance. Whether it is a midterm election or presidential election, she said the organization’s efforts are the same.

In 2018, 61 percent of registered voters turned out at the polls for the midterm election compared to 75 percent in 2020 during the last presidential election.

Additionally, the Iowa Legislature changed the state’s election laws in 2021. This GOP-backed bill included provisions that shortened the time to vote early from 29 days to 20 days, forced polls to close an hour earlier, and required that mail-in ballots are in the auditor’s office by the time the polls close to start counting.

Grant said the change in laws may mean fewer people can take advantage of voting before Election Day.

“I think some of the restrictions that are in place now do make it a little more difficult,” Grant said.

According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, as of Oct. 25, there have been fewer requests for mail-in ballots across the state but an increase in in-person early voting compared to the past.

Brady Pratt, a University of Iowa political science major, said he always votes in person on Election Day. He said if a voter is able-bodied, they have the civic duty to vote in person.

“I don’t even want to say that there’s obstacles involved because there really aren’t any in the state of Iowa, but I think that people just don’t understand the importance of what these races are actually trying to accomplish,” Pratt said.

Pratt said the reason people aren’t voting isn’t because of the lack of access to the polls, but because they are fed up with the two-party system or a lack of information.

Despite this, Pratt said he expects a record voter turnout this election because of the number of Iowans who don’t approve of President Joe Biden’s administration and the direction the country is moving.

According to FiveThirtyEight, 53.5 percent of likely voters disapprove of the Biden administration’s performance while in office.

At this point in former President Donald Trump’s term, he had a 53 percent disapproval rating.

“I think that it’s really important to notice and point out that the policies that they’re pushing aren’t really working right now and to go out and look for different, innovative solutions, and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to these midterms,” Pratt said.

Third-year UI law student Amber Crow said she has voted in every election since 2015, and this year she voted by mail-in ballot.

Crow said voting absentee was best for her because of her busy schedule. She said she wanted to make sure she got it done, and voting absentee can keep voters free from contracting COVID-19.

Voting in this election is important for Iowans, Crow said. Iowans will feel the impacts of policies made by the Legislature, she added — especially in the Statehouse.

While she did vote by mail, Crow said the shorter time for ballots to reach the auditor’s office makes her nervous. She said busy households — especially in rural areas — will have a harder time getting their votes counted.

“I think we all want a healthy democratic process,” Crow said. “I like to think we all want that, and so to see people putting up barriers in our communities, it’s a frustrating thing.”

Johnson County Democrats chairperson Ed Cranston said Democrats in the county practiced different mobilization efforts than in past years.

He said they analyzed all 64 precincts individually to see what strategies work best for each area.

In areas with the most active Democrats, the party’s goal was to make sure the voters turn out for the election, Cranston said. But in precincts with a lot of active Republicans, they work on persuasive messaging.

Early in the campaign season, Cranston said the party works on persuasion. When the election gets closer, the local party’s biggest concern is that people show up to the polls.

Cranston said it’s easy for a voter to know about upcoming presidential elections because those candidates come through the first-in-the-nation caucus state, and there is a lot of media coverage.

“So, it’s that people don’t really listen to the news if they’re not looking at a newspaper,” Cranston said. “They just may not know anything about an election.”

The race for Iowa’s 2nd District had a margin of six votes, which Cranston said is a good indicator that Iowa could have two Democratic seats out of the four House delegates.

“From the beginning, we’ve viewed that it’s really our responsibility to make sure that we get those votes out and we don’t miss it by six votes like what happened last time,” Cranston said. Democrat Rita Hart of Clinton narrowly lost to Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa in the southeastern region of Iowa, which has since been redistricted.

Johnson County Republicans chairperson Karen Fesler agreed Iowa can’t be considered a dark red state yet. She said others have considered Iowa City “a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup,” but there are enough Democratic strongholds in the state to contradict that.

“I think when you look at the number of people that aren’t really committed to either party, there’s a lot of people who are no-party voters,” Fesler said. “And they are always the people who make up the election. They are the ones who decide the elections.”

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office reported that 585,585 — or 31 percent — of the state’s 1,867,161 registered active voters are declared no-party or independent.In Johnson County alone, independents make up 30 percent of registered active voters, with 26,997 registrations out of 90,975.

Fesler predicts more Iowans will show up to the polls this year because they are unhappy with current political conditions.

“The president is still going to be there. He’s not going anywhere, at least for two years,” Fesler said. “But a change in Congress keeps him from passing some of the agenda items that he has.”

Fesler said the Republican Party is confident about flipping control of the U.S. House or Senate and picking up new Republican governors in states without Republican incumbents. She said Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has shown responsible politics that other states are looking up to. Reynolds faces Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear in the midterms.

“Republicans are also being very cautiously optimistic that they don’t get overconfident, and they don’t become complacent, and they get out and vote,” Fesler said.