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The battle over ballots: Testing the mail-in process

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UNDATED (KTIV) -- Voting by mail is a hot button issue in this year's presidential election. Because of the pandemic, officials throughout Siouxland are seeing a spike in requests for absentee mail-in ballots.

In Dakota County, Nebraska officials said they've had more than 1,900 early requests. In Union County, South Dakota they've had more than 3,000 requests. Sioux County, Iowa has seen more than 5,800 requests for ballots.

As you go to mail in those ballots, some wonder, can you trust that it will get where it needs to go in time for the election?

"It's very important to get your vote in," said Jackie Sieverding, Union County Auditor. "It's very important to voice your opinions."

How will you be voting in this election? By mail is the choice before many voters this year, but some are questioning how well it works.

"I've also heard people want to go to the polls or maybe don't trust the early voting ballot to go through the mail," said Joan Spencer, Dakota County Clerk.

So, is the process safe? It's the question posed to election officials in three Siouxland Counties: Dakota, Union, and Sioux.

"I feel it's safe in Dakota County," said Spencer.

"I don't' have any concerns myself," said Sieverding. "I think it's safe."

"Yeah, they're absolutely safe," said Ryan Dokter, Sioux County Auditor.

Election officials say the process is safe. But, will your ballot get there in time if you chose to mail it in? Or will it get there at all? KTIV put those questions and the postal system to the test, mailing out 150 mock ballots throughout those three Siouxland Counties.

"The postal service has been doing this for a really really long time and they've assured us that they take every precaution with that mail," said Dokter. "So that it gets processed and gets to the voter and gets back to us."

So how did that fair under our test? All 150 simulated ballots mailed in Dakota, Union, and Sioux Counties were delivered to us within two to three days of being mailed. None were missing. So, how soon should you mail in that ballot to make sure it's counted?

"As soon as possible," said Dokter. "We don't want to take any chances with the mail system."

Another point of contention: voting by mail and then showing up again to vote at the polls on election day.

"They can't go to the polls and vote again, or they can't request another ballot through us because it will throw up a red flag," said Sieverding.

So what if you get an absentee ballot, but decide you would rather vote in person?

In Iowa, you can either surrender the ballot at the polling location on Election day or if you lose or forget it, you can let an election poll worker know and they will work with the auditor's office to void that absentee ballot.

In Nebraska, you either surrender your ballot or if you misplace it, sign additional paperwork stating that you did not vote absentee.

And In South Dakota, you can shred that ballot yourself.

"We're having a lot of people that come in that have had requests, that are wanting to vote because they don't want to do it in the mail, but they don't want to go to the polling places," said Sieverding. "So, they can come up here."

Showing up to the polls after already voting by mail, is a practice officials said they don't encourage.

"That's just going to end up creating more lines and create some more issues at the polling locations for those who have made the decision to vote at the polls," said Dokter.

If you'd like to request an absentee ballot, you can do that by calling your county election office or through your Secretary of State's website.

In Iowa, you can request an absentee ballot until Saturday, October 24th at 5:00 pm And for your vote to be counted, they must be postmarked by November 2nd and be into the auditor by noon on November 9th.

In Nebraska, you can request your ballot until October 23rd. For your vote to be counted, your ballot must be received by the county election office by 8 pm on Election Day, November 3rd.

In South Dakota, you can request a ballot up through November 2nd.
But, for your vote to count, ballots need to be in the office by 3:00pm on November 3rd.

If you still have concerns about your mail-in ballot not getting to you or not getting back to be counted, you can track it.

All three Siouxland states provide that through their Secretary of State's Website. You'll be able to see the date your ballot application was received, the date it was sent to you, and the date your ballot was received back by the county.

Follow the links below to track your ballot in Iowa, Nebraska or South Dakota:

Michaela Feldmann

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