MUSCATINE, Iowa — Muscatine County Auditor Leslie Soule was a little surprised Monday to learn a misunderstanding over early voter registration she thought her office had cleared up in September surfaced as a story in the Des Moines Register on Monday.
According to the article, the Department of Criminal Investigation is looking into reports of possible problems with absentee ballots in Muscatine and Floyd counties. The article stated that Muscatine veteran Craig White, a Democrat, said a campaign worker allowed his 75-year-old mother, Mary Ellen White, to sign a ballot request form for him when he wasn’t home.
White was quoted as saying “It shocked me, and it really almost made me change my vote. As far as I’m concerned, my civil rights were violated.”
In Floyd County, the DCI is investigating three reports of someone filling out ballot requests without the voter’s knowledge.
It is a felony in Iowa to falsify a signature on a ballot request form.
When contacted by the Muscatine Journal, Soule said she spoke with White in late September when he came to her office with the absentee ballot he received in the mail, and said he had not signed for it.
“He said, ‘I don’t want this,’” said Soule. “I said, ‘Return it unvoted and go to the polls.’ As far as I know, we took care of it.” Soule chalked the situation up to voter error.
Betty McMahon, co-chair of the Muscatine County Democratic Party, said Craig White also called her at home and complained about the situation.
According to the Register article, Craig White said that when he contacted Democratic Party officials, they were very responsive and tracked down the canvasser who had gone to his mother’s home.
McMahon said no one should sign an early voter registration for anyone else, not even a relative.
Soule said she did receive a call from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and she explained what had happened with the Whites and how her office handled it.
Though Soule said she thought the ballot issue had been resolved, there are other early voter issues that vex her office during registration.
Soule hasn’t had any other complaints from county residents about people incorrectly signing the forms, but people do call to complain about the canvassers being too persistent in their quest to register people.
In addition, she has seen evidence that some residents sign the forms to appease canvassers, and when that happens, it can cost taxpayer dollars.
“Some of these door knockers don’t take no for an answer,” said Soule. “But people want to go to the polls on election day so they sign up for the absentee ballot and then turn it in at the poll and vote there anyway.”
While it is legal to surrender an absentee ballot and opt for the poll, it can also be expensive.
Soule said it costs approximately $2.50 in postage and materials each time a ballot is processed and mailed to a voter. And then, if the person returns the ballot and goes to vote at the polls, there’s another ballot to process there.
“If people want to vote absentee, I’m fine with that. But it would be nice if people just said no if they don’t want to vote early,” said Soule.
Another issue, Soule said, is that many people who receive multiple forms by mail to request early-voter registration fill them all out. Her office only processes one, said Soule, so they file the rest of the person’s requests with the initial form.
“I call that people not paying attention,” said Soule.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story