Voter interest ran high in several Iowa counties during Tuesday’s mid-term election, with any of the few problems that have popped up barely causing a stir.

Except for one.

Henry County, in southeast Iowa, ran out of ballots in some precincts before noon. Voters used machines for blind and handicapped voters to cast ballots. And, they had to wait sometimes.

“In Henry County people aren’t used to waiting,” County Auditor and elections commissioner Shelly Barber said. “So if they have to wait for a half-hour, 45 minutes, they think that’s horrid. And I hate that they have that long, but there’s lines. That’s just the way it is.”


Other parts of the state reported strong turn-out, as well.

“I think it’s going to be a record turnout,” Mills County Auditor Carol Robertson said as voters came to the polls in that county. “I probably attribute it to the door-to-door, getting people signed up for the absentee ballots, they were coming back here with request forms for people who’d never voted and people I’d never heard of.

“And people like the early voting. It’s funny, people don’t like to stand and wait in line at the polls but they’ll stand and wait in line here (at the courthouse) for early voting.”


The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office reported that 1,321,151 votes had been cast by the end of Tuesday — 61 percent of Iowa’s 2,167,914 eligible voters. A few more ballots might qualify as absentee ballots arrive in the mail but the 61 percent busted the turnout rate from the last mid-term election in 2014, which was 53 percent. In the 2014 election, 1,142,311 Iowans voted.

The Secretary of State’s Office reported that 529,612 of the 575,935 early ballots given voters had been returned going into Election Day. In Black Hawk County, where the metropolitan Waterloo-Cedar Falls area exists, 22,433 voters had requested early ballots through Monday, about the same as the 23,352 voters requesting early ballots in the last mid-term election, in 2014, County Auditor Grant Veeder said.

Waiting lines in counties IowaWatch contacted generally were manageable, county auditors reported. “From just a couple precincts we’ve talked to, I think they’re having a pretty good turn out,” O’Brien County Auditor Barbara Rohwer said at mid-day Tuesday. “Not as high as we were expecting — we had a pretty high absentee ballot request — so we were expecting more to turn up to vote.”

Interest in the election has been high this year. Incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds won her first full term as an elected governor after ascending to the position when former Gov. Terry Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China. Democrat Fred Hubbell was trying to turn his business experience into political service.

Voters at the Iowa Main Library on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2018. Credit: Lauren Wade/IowaWatch

Meanwhile, Democrats were trying to wrest control of at least one, if not two, chambers of the Iowa Statehouse from Republican control — they didn’t — against the back drop of competitive races for Iowa’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne ousted Republicans Rod Blum and David Young, respectively, while Democrat incumbent David Loebsack won re-election against Republican Christopher Peters. Only Republican incumbent Steve King, who has become a controversial figure, managed to keep his congressional seat from Iowa Tuesday.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said turnout was larger than what he expected. “We had a few minor computer issues this morning, but that does not stop anyone from voting. Same way if we had a tabulator machine at one of the precincts go down, there’s no reason to stop voting,” Weipert said.


Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott said he heard no complaints from voters about eligibility or how to go about voting but had to field some questions. “People will call in and say, ‘hey where’s my voting place?’ That’s pretty normal. We had a particular polling place where someone showed up with a green card and wasn’t sure whether they could vote or not,” Parrott said.

“We have some longer lines today at a couple of the polling places,” Cerro Gordo County Auditor Pat Wright said. The county had a few user-error problems this morning but they were resolved, and no voters had been turned away going into the afternoon, Wright said.

Bremer County auditor Shelley Wolf said, “I haven’t heard anything about anybody not understanding the ballot. A lot of people were just trying to figure out their Election Day registration.”

Wolf said some voters called or stopped by the auditor’s office with questions about where to vote but that her office was able to resolve any instances of confusion. Early voting takes place at the county courthouse, but on Election Day, voters are required to go to their polling place.

In Adair County, Auditor Mindy Schaefer said a scanner for a laptop wasn’t working at first but rebooting the laptop solved the problem quickly. Boone County had some initial printer problems, but nothing serious, Auditor Philippe E. Meier said.

Appanoose County Auditor Kelly Howard said her county’s polls had long lines, even though absentee voting in the county was higher this year than four years ago. Adams County Auditor Becky Bissell said the polls there were busy, too.

For the most part, though, lines early in the day have been steady, auditors IowaWatch talk with said.

Grinnell College students (left to right) Ethan Huelskamp, Mira Tellegen and Sam Eagen offer rides to the polls to students on the central Iowa college campus on Tuesday. They were doing this on behalf of NextGen, a liberal political group. Credit: Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

New in Iowa this year is that voters could not vote straight party ticket. Also new this year, early voting was shortened from 40 days to 30 days. A new law requiring Iowa voters to show a driver’s license, non-driver’s ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID, tribal ID or voter ID card at the polls before they vote does not take effect until next year. However, political debate over it might have confused some voters, critics of the law say.

Voters this year are asked to show identification before voting but are allowed, if they don’t have an ID, to sign an oath verifying their identity so that they can vote.

“We’ve educated our people over the last three or four elections so they’re aware of the ID requirement,” Sac County Auditor Jim Dowling said.

“Nobody’s been turned away so far, except we had one non-resident, so they couldn’t vote in this county,” Shelby County Auditor Mark Maxwell said.

Comments from other county auditors when IowaWatch spoke with them Tuesday

Humboldt County Auditor Peggy Rice: “There seems to be a lot more interest in this election. There were some precincts that got kind of busy. We took extra booths out, we took extra secrecy sleeves … Everything went good. We’ve had a few election day registration, that was normal, not a huge amount. Those seemed to go OK. We used the precinct atlas machine and that helps us make sure that everybody’s treated the same.”

Howard County Auditor Julie Chapman: Polls have been steady, with no difficulties.

Iowa County Auditor Jessica Stohlmann: All going well at polls, with strong turnout and no reports of issues or complaints.

Jasper County’s Parrott: Turnout picked up in the evening after a normal day. “By mid-afternoon we thought it was pretty much on target with 2014, but tonight there seems to be a lot of people turning out at the supper hour, more than normal.”

Adams County auditor Becky Bissell said the polls “seem pretty busy”, but that she has not heard of any problems with the ballots, voter registration or people trying to vote when they cannot.

Allamakee County auditor Denise Beyer: “Everyone seems to be understanding and things are running smoothly.”

Appanoose County auditor Kelly Howard said there have been long lines at the polls and that absentee voting in Appanoose County was higher this year than four years ago.

Audubon County auditor Lisa Frederiksen: “I think we’re probably on target for what a normal presidential year is. Our poll workers haven’t had a lot of time to call in … I think they’re both busy.”

Benton County auditor Hayley Rippel: “I think it’s been very steady and if it’s anything like what the absentee turnout has been” it’ll be high. Benton County had 3,473 mail-in absentee ballots, with about 100 per day coming into the county office to vote absentee. “I had one upset person. He went to the wrong precinct,” Rippel said.

Boone County’s Meier: Lines “haven’t been extremely long but they’ve been steady. We had over 5,000 people vote absentee.”

Calhoun County Auditor Robin Batz: “We had one machine and we switched it out with a spare that had already been tested, but other than that it’s been simple things election day registrations.”

Carroll County auditor Kourtney Irlbeck: “No places are having lines. We usually don’t have lines around here. We just don’t have the population to support long lines. We had 3,400 absentees as of this morning … which was basically in line with what we were at in 2014.”

Cass County auditor Dale Sunderman: “As far I know I haven’t had any reports of fairly long lines except in one precinct.” That was the Atlantic 5 precinct at Heritage House. “Our county machines are working fine it’s just a couple of communication between computer and printer.” Those issues have not been severe, Sunderman said, and were being resolved.

Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker: “What I heard from earlier it was steady … It seems to be pretty smooth out there.”

Taylor County Auditor Bethany Murphy: “No issues. Just a higher than normal turnout. No lines, just a steady stream of voters.”

Page County Auditor Melissa Wellhausen: “I think we’re actually probably going to be up a little more than we were anticipating, which is wonderful to see..”

Plymouth County Auditor Stacey Feldman: “We’ve had a few people show up to the court-house, because we do absentee ballots there, and think they can vote there.”

Ringgold County Auditor Amanda Waske: “I have had a few people show up to the wrong precinct because we have two in Adair. That seems to happen every election.”

Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz: “A few hiccups here and there. When you’re dealing with 63 precincts and 250 to  300 people every now and then things happen.”

Taylor County Auditor Bethany Murphy: “We’ve had a higher than normal turn out. No issues, just a higher than normal turnout. No lines, just a steady stream of voters.”

Warren County Auditor Traci VanderLinden: “Our phones have been ringing off the hook, with people wanting to know where they go vote and those kinds of things.”

Wayne County Auditor Michelle Dooley: “It’s probably above average. We have probably 900 absentee ballots and I was expecting 800, and I just visited one of the polling places and in the first four hours we had 150 voters.”

Webster County Auditor Doreen Pliner: Polling place turnout high this morning but no long lines or problems at the polls.

Winneshiek County Auditor Benjamin D. Steines: Not as busy as two years ago but definitely busier that the last midterms. “Right away in the morning we had to get our computers and printers and everything going, but once we got that going it’s been great.”

Mitchell County Auditor Lowell Tesch: “It seems to be going well, the biggest thing is just people that have moved and haven’t updated their voter registration, so that takes time, and people showing up to the wrong place. We’ve had a lot of phone calls about things.”

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