Iowa voters, beware: You could be disenfranchised by an absent postmark on your absentee ballot.
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Lawmakers and state elections officials are warning that a state law mandating postmarks on absentee ballots has caused the disqualification of dozens of potentially valid votes in recent elections, and could disqualify many more in high-profile statewide contests later this year.
After months of debate, legislators have failed to find a solution to the problem and all but given up on fixing it before they adjourn the current session.
The law at issue requires absentee ballots received after Election Day to be stamped with a postmark from the day before Election Day or earlier. Any ballot received after Election Day without a postmark is tossed out and not counted — even if the voter completed and mailed it on time.
But here's the problem: the U.S. Postal Service often does not postmark the business reply mail envelopes in which voters return completed absentee ballots. That means a valid ballot may be disqualified due to the inaction of a post office employee, even if the voter did everything else right.
"We just can't depend on the Postal Service to assure that your vote counts," said state Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. "To place an individual's right to vote on a system that's not under our control is a dangerous precedent to set."
The issue is widespread throughout the state, as evidenced by data collected in local elections from 2011 and 2013.
While election officials coordinated with the Postal Service in 2012 to ensure ballots were postmarked and avoided significant absentee disqualifications in the presidential election, it's unclear if such coordination is in the works this year, when Iowans will elect a governor, a U.S. senator, four House members and scores of other important offices.