Voting in a Pandemic: Ensuring Residents’ Right to Vote

The 2020 election is rapidly approaching, and LAI wants to make sure you have all the information you need to make sure residents, tenants, and staff can freely and safely exercise their right to vote in November. With COVID-19 complicating the process, it is worth creating a plan now to avoid issues down the road.

LeadingAge has produced variety of tools to assist members with creating a voting plan for your campus. They have developed a LeadingAge Toolkit for Providers and created a website dedicated to getting new individuals to register to vote.   

The toolkit covers a lot of different issues for LAI members to consider. For example, it identifies steps members could take in identifying who is registered to vote on your campus, putting up flyers to remind people to vote, identifying whether residents/tenants live in different voting jurisdictions, identifying transportation for day of voting, worksheets to pass out to residents, FAQs on voting, and more.

The toolkit does not cover Iowa specific information regarding voter registration, absentee ballot requests, the important dates and timeline for voting, the rights of residents in LTC facilities, and the rights of staff in regards to voting. LAI provides Iowa specific information below.  See also this guidance from the Iowa Secretary of State's office.  

Voter Registration

Before anyone can vote, they must be registered. Iowa has same day voter registration for any election, but it makes the voting process much smoother if an individual is registered beforehand.

Whether an individual is registered to vote is public information. To check your or a resident/tenant’s registration status, click here. The link will also provide vital voting information such as their polling place and whether their voter registration status is active.

If a person is not registered to vote and is eligible to vote, they have two different options to register. First, they can print off the voter registration form and either deliver it to the county auditor or send it via mail. A person would also have the option to register online; however, online registration requires a valid driver’s license or ID number.

Absentee Ballots and Early Voting

Absentee ballots are a process by which an individual makes a request to their county auditor to have an election ballot sent to their choice of residence. The individual can fill out the ballot and return it either by mail or hand delivery to the county auditor's office. Due to COVID-19, Iowa is currently seeing record numbers of requests for absentee ballots in 2020. The following are some useful, Iowa specific information related to absentee voting:

  • Absentee Ballot Request – To receive an absentee ballot, all voters must send in an absentee ballot request. The absentee ballot request form can be downloaded and sent in to your local county auditor. The form is highlighted to show the required areas to fill in. Generally, absentee ballot requests must be into your local county auditor by 5:00 pm 10 days before a general election. Residents of a RCF, assisted living, or nursing facility must have their request into the auditor by the Friday before the general election (October 30, 2020). Absentee ballot requests can either be mailed or hand delivered to your local county auditory. Further, each ballot request does not need to be individually mailed; they can be sent in as a group.
    • One of the newer requirements for an absentee ballot request is the need for a driver’s license ID number, a non-operator ID number, or the four-digit voter PIN on the voter identification card. Residents in an independent living must have those items to vote. However, residents of a RCF, assisted living program, or nursing facility do not need to have a proof of identify requirement to vote or fill out the absentee ballot request form.  
  • Absentee Ballot – The first absentee ballots in Iowa will be sent out on October 5. The ballots will be specific to the voting precinct an individual claims to live, so the ballots themselves will potentially differ between residents/tenants. LAI members staff can assist any resident in filling out a ballot. The only individuals who are prohibited in assisting with filling out a ballot are employers, the employer’s agent, or an officer/agent of a person’s union. The ballot itself should have the instructions needed for filling out the ballot and returning it to the county auditor’s office.

Absentee ballots received in the county auditor’s office by the time the polls closed on election day are eligible for counting. Absentee ballots received after the polls closed on election day must be postmarked by the Monday before election day or earlier and received in the county auditor’s office no later than noon on the Monday following the election. LAI highly recommends assisting residents with filling out ballots as soon as possible.

Returning the ballot can occur in a by different methods:

  • The ballot can be returned via mail.
  • The ballot can be delivered to the county auditor’s office up to election day.
  • If an individual has not returned their absentee ballot by election day, they have the following options:
    • Deliver their voted absentee ballot to the county auditor's office before the polls close on election day.
    • Surrender their voted absentee ballot at the polls and vote a regular ballot, or
    • Vote a provisional ballot at the polls if they cannot surrender their voted absentee ballot.

Please note, there are some procedural differences with absentee ballots for residents in an RCF, assisted living, and nursing facility. Please see LTC Resident Voter Rights for more details.

  • Early Voting – Early voting begins in Iowa on October 5. Each county auditor will have designated locations for early, in-person voting to occur beyond the county auditors office. For 2020, some county auditors may not have as robust early voting programs due to COVID-19 concerns and the state sending absentee ballots requests to all eligible voters which reduces the need for early voting locations. Contact your local county auditor or visit their website to learn more information. Early voting requires a voter to follow the same procedures as election day voting.

Election Day Voting

Voters on election day will need to go to their designated precinct to cast their ballot. To find an individual’s precinct, click here. In order to vote, a voter must have valid photo ID.  Valid photo IDs include Iowa driver’s license or non-operator ID, U.S. passport, U.S. military ID or veteran’s ID, tribal ID/document or Iowa voter ID card. A voter without one of the listed forms of ID may have the voter’s identity attested to by another registered voter in the precinct or may prove identity and residence using Election Day Registration documents. 

If an individual is not registered to vote by election day, they have the option for same day voter registration. In order to register on the day of the election, an individuals must have proof of ID, proof of residence in the precinct, or have an attester from the precinct who can attest for you as an individual who is eligible to vote.

If a resident/tenant is brought to the polling location, they can ask for assistance to help fill out the ballot from either staff, another resident/tenant, or an election official. Further, if a resident/tenant has mobility issues, two election officials can bring out a ballot to a vehicle to assist with voting.

Important Voting Dates

  • October 5 - Date Early Voting begins and Absentee Ballots sent to those who requested them.
  • October 24 – Last day absentee ballot request forms will be accepted. Must be to the county auditor by 5 p.m.
  • October 30 – Last day absentee ballot request forms will be accepted for residents/tenants of a RCF, assisted living, or nursing facility. Must be to the county auditor by 5 p.m.
  • November 3 – Election Day

LTC Resident Voter Rights

Residents in an RCF, assisted living, or nursing facility have some special protections regarding their absentee voting rights. First, they do not have to abide by the same timeline for getting an absentee ballot request form into the county auditor’s office. A LTC resident must get their request form in to the county auditor’s office no later than 5:00 pm on the Friday before the election. Further, they do not need to provide voter identification in order to vote while residing in the LTC facility.

Generally, there is a requirement in state law that a bipartisan team of election officials must deliver an absentee ballot to residents in a LTC facility if the resident requests a ballot. The auditor will notify the facility about the delivery of the ballots to your campus and work to find a convenient time for your residents and the election officials.

Due to pandemic precautions, the Iowa Secretary of State (SOS) has approval and emergency powers to suspend the requirement for election officials to go deliver absentee ballots to LTC facilities. Instead, SOS is authorized to send absentee ballots to all residents/tenants in Iowa. Therefore, LAI highly recommends that each campus create a voting plan for your residents to focus on absentee requests and ballots.

Staff and Voting

Staff who do not have three consecutive hours when they are not required to be at work during the time between when the polls open and close on election day are entitled to up to three hours off from work to vote.

Employees must make an individual written request for time off to vote to their employer before election day. The employer designates the period of time the employee will be allowed to leave work to vote. The employee cannot be penalized, and deductions cannot be made from the employee's regular salary or wages on account of this absence.

Example: An employee works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and wishes to vote at an election where the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The employee would not be entitled to time off work to vote in this instance because the employee has four consecutive hours (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) that the employee is not required to be at work while the polls are open.

However, if the employee worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the employee would be entitled to time off work to vote. In this instance, the employee does not have three consecutive hours off work while the polls are open.