By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES – Early voting in Iowa is on track to shatter records, with registered Democrats taking a healthy initial lead, according to the secretary of state.
Roughly 515,000 Iowans had cast their ballots by Tuesday, more than 30 percent of total 2008 turnout. Democrats accounted for 44 percent of all votes cast. Republicans and Independents followed with 33 percent and 24 percent Independents.
Early voting figures are expected to swell to more than 40 percent of 2008 voter turnout, election officials said. It’s unclear whether the growing number is due to a shift in the way voters cast ballots or if new voters are registering, they said.
Officials with both camps were optimistic going into the six-day final stretch. President Barack Obama’s Iowa campaign leaders attributed the current numbers to their strong ground game of knocking on doors and calling people.
A big registration push turned Iowa a Republican-majority state for the first time, and Republican leaders were pleased by their relatively strong early-voter showing.
“We are doing very well in early and absentee voting in the state,” said Rich Beeson, a political advisor for Romney.
Iowa Republicans have increased their ground game in the Hawkeye State and more strongly pushed early voting, said Tim Hagle, University of Iowa political science professor.
“Both parties are continuing to put those early votes in the bank for their respective party,” said Tim Hagle, University of Iowa political science professor. “There is some question, though, as to whether it’s going to increase turnout or cannibalize the vote on election day.”
Some election officials say the growing use of the option gives busy voters an easier way to cast ballots, while others worry it opens the door to possible voter fraud.
Carol Robertson, Mills County auditor and president of the Iowa State County Auditors Association, has said she favors investigating ways to prevent fraud in early voting, because that’s where it’s easiest to impersonate someone.
In July, Secretary of State Matt Schultz enacted emergency rules allowing him to vet voter lists by running immigrant names through a federal database with their up-to-date statuses. He also signed a two-year contract with the Department of Criminal Investigation worth as much as $360,000.
Two minority advocate groups in the state brought a lawsuit against Schultz, saying he abused his authority. A judge recently denied Schultz’s request to dismiss the case and issued an injunction halting him from taking other actions. The criminal investigator, however, has continued looking into a list of questionable names provided by Schultz’s office and has found a handful of cases that led to election misconduct charges.
Eligible residents can vote early by going to the county auditor, sending in an absentee ballot or using satellite voter stations. They can submit votes the day before the election. There is no way to know which candidate they voted for, only the party they are registered with.
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