CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The same thing keeping some Iowa voters attending campaign rallies for the top two presidential candidates from waiting until Election Day to vote is the same thing prompting others to vote before Nov. 8.
“Normally I don’t vote early but I will this year so people know what’s going on a little better,” Judy Williams, 66, a retiree from REM Iowa of Cedar Rapids and Hillary Clinton supporter, said at a Friday, Oct. 28, rally for the Democratic nominee in Cedar Rapids. “I don’t think the polls are right. I think they’re a lot of misspoke things in the polls.”
Clinton and Trump spoke in Cedar Rapids a little more than seven hours apart, both bringing in crowds of supporters. On each side of the political spectrum fear seemed to be a common factor for whether or not to vote early.
Early voting is a benefit for candidates, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “The political campaigns encourage it because it allows them to get the activists voting so they can focus on the others who aren’t sure who they are voting for,” Pate said.
Timothy Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said candidates also benefit from early voting when avoiding the damage of an “October Surprise,” or revelation about a candidate that might change supporters’ minds. “Early votes can’t be changed if the information is damaging to the candidate,” he said.
Friday delivered an October surprise that increased attention on the Iowa appearances by Clinton and Trump. FBI Director James B. Comey notified Congress that he is re-opening an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
The news broke while Clinton supporters waited in line for her Cedar Rapids appearance. Clinton supporter Leeann Oelrich, 22, an adult educator from Cedar Rapids, said she would vote early because she has received several calls from the Clinton campaign. Asked if the investigation would cause her to reconsider voting for Clinton, she said, “No, absolutely not.”
Clinton did not mention the development during her campaign speech. Trump started his appearance giving the FBI credit for revisiting the matter and he criticized Clinton, as he has done in other campaign appearances. Both candidates stuck to common themes they’ve expressed throughout the campaign while urging voters to get to the polls.
Fewer Iowans are voting early than in the 2012 presidential election.
Of the 398,731 absentee votes cast at the end of Friday, 45 percent were by registered Democrats, 34 percent were by registered Republicans and 21 percent were by those registered with no party affiliation. The vote totals are updated regularly by Pate’s Iowa secretary of state’s office.
Iowa law states that you have to prove during Election Day registration who you are and where you live with a photo identification such as a driver’s license. But Jane Kiebel 65, a retired registered nurse of Dubuque, expressed concern about voter fraud at the polls on Election Day.
“I can tell them any name I want,” Kiebel said. “We need ID’s. You need an ID to get a license for a dog, you need an ID for a fishing license. Why would you not show an ID to vote, something so important?”
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Trump supporters at his Friday rally expressed fear that some voters are not properly represented with absentee ballots.
“I’ve seen what can happen sometimes with people, such as the elderly in nursing homes, where people go into mass-register, then mass vote for people,” said Kevin Slaman, 54, a mortgage banker in Cedar Rapids.
Kiebel expressed suspicion about votes cast by those helping incoherent nursing home residents. “We have thousands and thousands of people in nursing homes. Those are not correct votes,” Kiebel said.
But some Trump supporters have voted early.
Roger Dvorak, 73, the retired owner of Dvorak Painting Co. in Cedar Rapids, said he voted early to avoid crowds. “I think the crowds will be bigger because I think America is ready for a change,” he said.
Dvorak said he is not worried about his early vote being counted properly because he says he is confident in the Iowa system.
Byron Flint, 57, a factory worker from Cedar Rapids, said he voted for Clinton early to avoid disturbances on Election Day.
“My friend (Democratic Party activist Sara Riley) is a poll protection attorney and she’s been posting on Facebook about all kinds of things the Republican poll watchers have been doing, so we didn’t want to be around all that kind of mess.”
Outside of fear, Hagle said part of the reason absentee voting is down could be a lack of enthusiasm for the two candidates. “Both of them have very high unfavorable numbers in the polls and that is likely to dampen the enthusiasm for voting, let alone voting early,” Hagle said.
While he acknowledged that some political analysts do not think many undecided voters are left this close to the election, he disagreed. “I think more than the usual number of voters are likely having a hard time choosing between two not very good candidates, choosing a third party, or not voting at all.”
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