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Johnson County sees large turnout after first day of early voting

BY NICK HASSETT | SEPTEMBER 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Voters in Johnson County are on pace to cast a record number of early votes this election year.

After the first day of early voting, the number of ballot requests surpassed that of  2008 and the previous record, set in 2004.

According to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, voters requested 11,793 absentee ballots as of Thursday night — up from 7,315 in 2008. In 2004, that number was 11,283. Statewide, Iowans requested 185,747 absentee ballots.

The line at the Iowa City Public Library — one of two locations for early voting — snaked through the lobby and out the back door all day on Thursday. According to the library, 123 S. Linn St., 766 residents voted at the location on the first day. That’s up from 277 people who voted there on the first day in 2008. At the Auditor’s Office, 460 voters marked their ballots on Thursday.

UI freshman Jason Pitzer went to vote for the first time at the library.

“I wanted to get it out of the way,” he said. “The line was about half an hour, but that’s better than Election Day.”

Iowa is one of the earliest states to hold in-person absentee and early voting. It is among one of more than 30 states to allow early voting and is the first swing state to head to the polls. Wyoming started its voting Thursday, and Idaho, North Dakota, and Vermont began their early voting period last week.

Citizens voted in person at either the Auditor’s Office or the Iowa City Public Library.

Terry Dahms, the head of the Johnson County Democratic Party, said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of people at the library.

“When I went in to vote around noon, the number of people waiting had exceeded my expectations,” he said. “It’s hard to say if the numbers will be higher than 2008, but if we can equal what we got then, we’d be ecstatic.”

UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said early voting isn’t just a boon for citizens, the parties benefit, too.

“[Early voting] allows political parties to get a handle on where they stand,” he said. “It might give an indication of the enthusiasm level for the parties.”

Democrats in Iowa typically have a higher turnout during early voting. According to the Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, 46.9 percent of the early voters in 2008 were registered Democrats. In contrast, 28.9 percent were registered Republicans, and 24.2 percent had either a third-party or no party affiliation.

Democrats also make up the majority of ballots received this year, with 69.5 percent of the 3,559 ballots received coming from registered Democrats. Republicans contributed 13.5 percent of the ballots, and 17 percent of the overall votes came from voters with either no or other party affiliation.

Some national figures were in town Thursday to document the start of the early voting period in Iowa. CNN Chief National Correspondent John King told The Daily Iowan during an exclusive interview that early voters who vote now are usually those who are already set in their ways about the election.

“In early voting, Democrats always make a bigger push — especially in this state,” King said.

Dahms said it’s nice to see high Democrat turnout but cautioned against reading too much into the results.

“It helps to see higher numbers of Democrats, but we can’t become complacent,” he said. “We have to keep working hard.”

Bob Anderson, the head of the Johnson County Republicans, said the party is not going to make the same mistake it did in 2000, when former President George W. Bush won the general election but Al Gore ended up winning Iowa based partially on early votes.

“We’re encouraging people to get out there and vote early. Once that happens, we’ve got that vote in the bank,” he said. “Voting is so basic to the democratic process that it’s vital for citizens to get out and vote when they can.”


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