By Amanda Litvinov
Iowa is back in the political spotlight as it becomes the first battleground state to begin in-person early voting.
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Oscar Ortiz, a middle school instrumental music director in small town Chariton, Iowa, said there’s no question he’s voting early this year, just as he has in the past three presidential elections.
“As a teacher who lives in a different town from where I work, it’s hard for me to make it to the polls on Election Day,” said the lifelong Iowa resident. “And I feel strongly about exercising my right to vote. I think it’s a crime that so many people don’t vote, considering the sacrifices that others have made for us to have this right.”
Beginning today, Iowa voters can return absentee ballots or cast their votes in-person at a designated voting station. In 2008, nearly 35 percent of the state’s citizens voted early, and even more are expected to do so in this election.
So far, registered Democrats have requested absentee ballots at a ratio of nearly 6 to 1 over their Republican counterparts, but those in the know warn there’s no use in trying to draw conclusions from any one statistic this early.
One Iowan who has already voted by mail is retired educator Barbara Cunningham, president of the NEA-Retired Iowa chapter. She spoke to EdVotes from her “personal phone booth”–her car, which she’s spent quite a bit of time in lately travelling to organizing meetings and putting up signs for the candidates she supports around her hometown of Shenandoah.
“I’m not going to risk not being able to vote on Election Day,” she said. “You never know. You might have the flu, you might not feel up to standing in long lines, you might need to go out of town. I want to be done with it, I know who I’m voting for.”
“We’re just one state senator away from being Wisconsin,” explained Cunningham. “We have a Republican House and Governor, and if we lose our one-seat advantage in the Senate, collective bargaining will be down the tubes. That’s why it’s so important that people know about all the races on their ballots.”
Now that she’s made sure her voice is heard in this election, Cunningham is committed to getting others to the polls. “We didn’t quit being educators when we retired, so we keep helping others learn about the importance of these elections. Our job is to inform people about who we think would be the best for education.”
Ortiz, too, remains energized. “Once I’ve voted, I feel an even stronger need to advocate for my candidates,” he said. “We’re gearing up to make calls and knock on doors. I feel more determined than ever that I want my candidates to succeed.”
“Retirees can’t always do the door-to-door canvassing, but we can make donations and talk to people and post important information on social media,” said Cunningham. She also encourages fellow Iowans to vote early. “I ask people, ‘Do you want to be done voting?’ And if they say yes, I give them a form to request an absentee ballot. I keep them in my car.”
Cunningham said her political fervor—which does not fade after Election Day—is not unique: “We live in Iowa. This is what we do.”