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Here are the major changes you should know as early voting in Iowa begins

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a sweeping election reform bill into law in March.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Wednesday marks the first day of early voting in Iowa. 

But this year, the process has major changes due to the election reform law that was passed earlier in the year.

Here are some of what voters need to be aware that's different in 2021:

  • Early voting is scaled down to 20 days (was previously 29 days)
  • Polling places close at 8 p.m. for all elections (original poll closing time was 9 p.m. for primary and general elections)
  • Absentee ballot requests for voting by mail must be received by 15 days before the election
  • The only person who can return a voted absentee ballot other than the voter are: an immediate family member, someone living in the voter's household, a caretaker, or precinct officials who deliver the ballot to residents at health care facilities. In some cases, a "delivery agent" may be approved for voters with disabilities. 
  • Auditors will no longer perform mass mailings of ballot requests 
  • An employee is entitled to take off from work in order to vote. However, they are only allowed two hours, down from three hours. 
  • Absentee ballots must be received by the county auditor by 8:00 p.m. on election day. (Previously ballots were valid if postmarked before Election Day and received by the Monday following the election).

"I think just make a plan," said Polk County Administrator Jaimie Fitzgerald. "Have a plan to vote. You know, even though there's a shortened window of voting, please come to your local county auditor's office, vote in person, go to a satellite location if your county has one, or make a plan to vote on election day."

"City and school elections are a big percentage of your property tax and a big percentage of what goes on in your community," he added. "So make a plan and go vote."

Iowa isn't alone in adding new voting restrictions after the 2020 election.

Many other state legislatures moved quickly to put up tighter voting laws this year. It's a push that came mainly from Republicans, who said the effort was to prevent widespread voter fraud. But here in Iowa, the Secretary of State says the state's system against voter fraud is one of the best in the country

"We do a post-election audit where we were checking the results to make sure their tabulators are accurate," Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said. "One of the best systems of all, that's called poll workers. They're your friends and neighbors who are there at the polling sites. They're our first line of defense and our last line of defense to make sure only those who are eligible should be voting."

"Voter ID is also a significant component to make sure you are who you are when you are voting. "

If you'd like to read more on these voting changes, find a link to track your absentee ballot, or find out more on coming deadlines head to the Secretary of State's website

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