Story at a glance

  • Due to sustained COVID-19 outbreaks, Iowa polling places are closing.
  • This leads to longer wait times and confusion among voters.

Voters in Iowa are facing shuttered polling locations less than a week away from Election Day, largely due to the various outbreaks of COVID-19 that have gripped the state.

Iowa is one of the several Midwest states experiencing record upticks in new coronavirus infections, with 1,133 Iowans testing positive for the virus yesterday. Two days prior, Iowa set a record for the number of new cases, reporting 2,691 on Oct. 26. In total, more than 121,000 people in Iowa tested positive for the coronavirus.

The current state testing positivity rate sits at 12.8 percent, well above the 10 percent rate recommendation to begin reopening economic and public sectors.

Reporting by NPR, the Iowa Public Radio News and the Center for Public Integrity finds that hundreds of polling centers have closed due to COVID-19, leaving voters with fewer local options.


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"All of us, we are going to have to look up where we need to go. I mean, I'm not sure which place I would go," Sheena Thomas, a voter in Des Moines, told reporters. "That's going to be an issue for everybody."

Thomas ultimately decided to vote absentee, but mass shutdowns and consolidations in locations can lead to confusions as to where to go, as well as longer lines to cast ballots. 

These closures also come during a contentious presidential election and many local elections, leading officials to fear that a lack of polling centers may skew the election outcome. NPR further notes that since 2016, Iowa has lost 261 polling places, which affect roughly 30 percent of the state’s voters, many of whom reside in urban areas.

The same analysis also revealed that communities with larger proportions of people of color have also experienced higher rates of polling place shutdowns, leading to more fears of voter suppression. 

"I'm certain that it's going to make it harder for people to vote. But I am seeing a resolve right now, where people are determined," Vikki Brown, the chair of the Black Hawk County Democrats, told reporters. "Whatever you do, we're going to counteract it."

Black Hawk County is one of the most diverse areas in Iowa and has seen larger portions of polling place closures.

Some of the main reasons for closures during this election stem from concerns over hosting polling places during the pandemic, as well as shortage of volunteer poll workers willing to come into contact with hundreds of people.

As a solution, polling places may be consolidated during the primaries in multiple states, such as in Atlanta and Milwaukee.

“On Election Day, we can anticipate to see long lines in areas where there have been mass closures," Leigh Chapman, the director of the voting rights program at the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, said regarding the 2020 Election Day.

While hundreds of thousands of Iowans appear to intend to vote absentee, like Thomas, polling station closures have proven to slow voter turnout.


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Published on Oct 29, 2020