Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a curfew in place following riots in Davenport Sunday night, turnout at the polls for Tuesday's primary election in Scott County has been much stronger than expected, poll workers say.
Amid concerns over the coronavirus, polling sites were skimmed from 63 to 23, taking into account the high number of absentee ballots requested this year. Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said more than 15,000 ballots of the 21,278 requested have been turned in and because of that, she had low expectations for in-person voting.
At one of the polling sites, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport, a handful of cars were in the parking lot. Inside, four poll workers kept busy checking in voters, who were asked to hold up identification cards flat against plastic sneeze guards put in place for protection.
By 1:45 p.m., Poll Chairman Tim Russer said 300 people had already voted at that site.
"Voting has been steady; a lot more steady than what we were predicting for all the absentee ballots out there," Russer said. "We're doing quite a bit better than we were anticipating."
Curbside voting was being offered at all locations for the disabled and those with elevated concerns about COVID-19. No one had taken advantage of the service by 2 p.m. at the church.
Russer said the four voting booths and chairs were being sanitized between voters. Some voters were not happy, he said, that "I voted" stickers were not being handed out this election. In their place, small pencils inscribed with "I voted" were given to voters to fill out their ballots and take with them.
"They like having a sticker so they can show that they voted; especially for the younger groups," he said. "But because of the all the transferring — we have to touch, they have to touch it — this way, they get the pencil and it's theirs. It's all about COVID with the stickers, that's why there are pencils this year.
"Turnout has been steady, the weather is great and we haven't been affected any of the rioting. Of course, it's not evening yet, but I don't know what it's going to be like because of the curfew. I encourage everybody to get out and vote; that's what we're here for."
Across town at Bettendorf's Tanglewood Hills Pavilion, 4250 Middle Road, more than a dozen people waited in line to check in and vote. Being mindful of social distancing, the line snaked outside the doors and into the parking lot as temperatures peaked into the 90's.
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher was among those waiting in line.
"I'm hopeful people will come out today," Gallagher said. "Obviously we are in a really different situation this time around. Not only do we have the pandemic, but the scare of the riots and the looting that happened a couple of nights ago has gotten our community shaken up a little.
"Hopefully everybody gets out and votes in the primary. That is our process in this country and it's very important."
Inside, voters waited on large circular floor stickers placed six feet apart that read, "Thanks for practicing social distancing. Vote safe, Iowa." About half of the people present were wearing masks.
Poll worker Kathy Mousel said turnout at the site was steady. By 2:45 p.m., 399 people had voted.
"It's more than we expected," Mousel said. "I thought we would have very low turnout because absentee votes have come in very strongly."
Mousel was summoned outside. Bettendorf resident Kay Hobbs had requested curbside voting. Hobbs, sitting in the passenger seat of a van driven by a family member, was wearing a face mask as she handed her identification to Mousel and another poll worker. Mousel explained that both a Democrat and Republican had to be present as Hobbs signed her request for a ballot.
"We're trying to keep everybody safe; we are wearing masks," Mousel said. "We are taking all the precautions here. We are offering masks, wipes, and gloves for people. We are constantly wiping down the tables, the machine and the doors."
WHO IS ON THE BALLOT?
At the polls, Republican voters will choose which candidate will challenge Democratic State Sen. Rita Hart for the open U.S. House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, who is retiring after representing the 2nd Congressional District for 14 years.
The Republican candidates are Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Bobby Schilling, Tim Borchardt, Rick Phillips and Steven Everly.
The Congressional primary is largely seen as a two-person race between Miller-Meeks and Schilling. Miller-Meeks, currently a state senator for District 41, tried and failed three times to unseat Loebsack in recent elections.
Schilling has already served in Congress, representing Illinois' 17th District from 2011 to 2013. He lost his bid for a second term to U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, in the Nov. 2012 general election. He challenged Bustos again in the Nov. 2014 general election and lost by nearly 22,000 votes.
Schilling moved to LeClaire in 2017 and became a resident of Iowa, making him eligible to run for Congress in the 2nd District.
Although Miller-Meeks has raised nearly five times the amount of campaign contributions as Schilling, both have brought in influential endorsements.
Miller-Meeks has been endorsed by Gov. Kim Reynolds; Senators Joni Ernst and Lindsay Graham; House minority leader Kevin McCarthy; and on Friday, earned the endorsement of Congressman Steve Scalise.
Schilling has been endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Uncontested for the Republican primary is Ernst for U.S. Senate; Gary Mohr for state representative of District 94; Tim Lane for sheriff; and Ken Beck and Tony Knobbe for Scott County board of supervisors.
Democratic voters will choose which U.S. Senate candidate will face off against Republican Joni Ernst in the Nov. 3 general election. The candidates are Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie J. Mauro, Cal Woods and Michael Franken.
Uncontested for the Democratic primary is Hart for U.S. representative of the 2nd Congressional District; Marie Gleason for state representative of District 94; Pete Bawden for sheriff; Moritz for auditor; and Jazmin Newton and Rogers Kirk Jr. for Scott County board of supervisors.
Polls in Scott County close at 9 p.m.
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