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Iowa polling places busy despite surge of absentee voting

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ernst will participate in a debate against her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP, File)

By DAVID PITT Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Elections officials and political activists reported high turnout Tuesday at polling places across Iowa and a largely smooth day of voting despite some long lines.

“Our voters have been ‘Iowa Nice’ through and through and they have been patient,” said Joel Miller, the commissioner of elections in Linn County, the state’s second largest. “We’re in good shape.”

He said the county that includes Cedar Rapids had nearly met its 2016 turnout by 5 p.m. and was on pace for a record 80% turnout.

Statewide, more than 1.6 million people were expected to cast ballots, including nearly 1 million absentee ballots that were returned before Election Day. But it was unclear how high turnout would go.

Officials in Linn, Polk and several other of the largest counties said they had counted a record number of early votes and expressed confidence preliminary results would start coming in after polls close at 9 p.m.

Joe Henry, political director of League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, said dozens of pickup trucks with Trump flags were driving through main streets on the south side of Des Moines. He said so far they haven’t caused any problems but that he was keeping an eye on them.

Henry’s group had sued unsuccessfully to try to block Iowa’s voter identification law approved by GOP lawmakers in 2017. He said that the law didn’t appear to be a major impediment to voters in the first presidential election since it’s taken effect, saying they knew to bring their identification documents with them.

“It’s a beautiful day — it’s 70 degrees right now. People are feeling good. When the weather is good, that means God is with us and people are voting,” he said.

Lines stretched down the block on Tuesday morning at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Council Bluffs, where voters were waiting up to two hours to cast ballots.

Dale Poole, 85, of Council Bluffs, had waited more than an hour and still was far from the front of the line.

“It’s ridiculous,” Poole said about the wait. “They should have had more places so we could vote. At least it’s a nice day.”

CONGRESS

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst breezed to an easy win in 2014 but has been in a much tighter race this year against Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who heads a Des Moines property development company. The race has been among the most expensive in the nation, reflecting on its importance in determining if Republicans maintain their Senate majority.

The races for three of the state’s four U.S. House seats also could be close, and even the final race in a conservative district in western and northern Iowa likely will be more competitive than usual.

In the 1st District, freshman Democrat Abby Finkenauer is defending her seat against Republican challenger Ashley Hinson, a state legislator and former television news anchor.

In the 2nd District, Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks are running for a seat left open by the retirement of Democrat Dave Loebsack. It’s the fourth time Miller-Meeks has run for the seat. She lost to Loebsack in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is running to retain her seat in the 3rd District against Republican David Young, who lost to Axne in 2018 after two House terms.

Polls have shown a competitive race in the conservative 4th District between Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra and Democrat J.D. Scholten. Feenstra received the Republican nomination over U.S. Rep. Steve King, who beat Scholten by only 3 points in the 2018 election.

PRESIDENT

President Donald Trump won Iowa by more than 9 points in 2016 but polls have shown a much tighter race this year. Both candidates held events in Iowa in the days leading up to Tuesday’s election.

LEGISLATURE

Democrats are optimistic about their chances of winning a majority in the state House and breaking four years of Republican control of both chambers as well as the governor’s office. To do so, they will need to flip four seats, and Democrats contend they have multiple opportunities. Republicans now have a 53-to-47 seat edge in the chamber.

Democrats could make gains in the state Senate, especially in a year when seven Republicans have opted not to seek reelection. However, Republicans are expected to retain control given they now have a 32-18 seat advantage.

EARLY VOTES

Early voting has been gaining in popularity for years, and the movement was turbocharged this year by concerns about voting at polling places at a time when coronavirus cases continue to increase. Early voters broke earlier records a week before Election Day, with 64% of active Democratic voters and 42% of Republicans requesting an absentee ballot. In total, more than 950,000 ballots had been returned to election offices by Monday in a state with just over 2 million registered voters.

Although Democrats cast far more early votes, Republicans were expected to turn out strongly on Election Day. Many independent voters also will likely cast ballots in person since fewer than a quarter of them requested absentee ballots.

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Associated Press writer Josh Funk contributed to this story from Council Bluffs.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.