Americans are facing an election year like no other. With COVID-19 still on the rise in many states, issues such as polling location safety and absentee ballots are rising to the forefront like never before. In Black Hawk County, the election will be overseen by Grant Veeder, who has served as the county auditor since 1988. In this conversation, Veeder, who graduated from UNI in 1974 and 1979 with English and history degrees, discusses what students need to know to vote this year and how the county is working to ensure a safe and fair election.
You’ve overseen elections in the county for more than three decades. Why do you think voting is important?
We live in a representative democracy. We vote for people to run our government. And so you want those people to reflect the will of the people. The only way you demonstrate that will is by voting. It's a very important right we have in this country, and it's something we should protect and preserve.
How do you typically respond to people who say their vote doesn't matter, or it's not going to make a difference if they vote or not?
There are different reasons for why people say that. Sometimes they look at the number of votes it takes to win an election and wonder why their vote matters. But in a close election, you never know how many it's going to take. People also think that, well, it doesn't matter how I vote, the people that are elected don't reflect what I want. But, you have to know that not everything can change overnight. A lot of things have happened that have improved life for people through the years, but they weren't easy. But they wouldn't have happened if people hadn't believed in the process.
How can UNI students register to vote? What should they know?
You can register to vote on the Secretary of State's website. Anybody with a driver's license in the state of Iowa can register online. If you don't have a driver's license, you can download a form and print it out and send it in. If you don't have access to a computer, and it's hard for you to get out of the home, you can call our office at 319-833-3007. We will send you a voter registration form. Fill that out, mail it back to us, and you'll be registered to vote.
A lot of times the question comes up regarding where students are supposed to be registered to vote. The law allows students to register either at their home, like if you're from Sioux City, you can register to vote in Sioux City, or at their address at UNI. So, make up your mind where you want to vote.
Another issue is absentee ballot requests people receive in the mail, which are sent by a number of entities, including the Secretary of State's office, my office, and other private organizations and political parties. A lot of people just have a whole stack of them. And they're all good. You don't have to use the one from my office or from the Secretary of State's office. If you received one of those forms in Black Hawk County, it's legitimate and if you send it to us, we will send you a ballot when they're available after Oct.
What are the important voting deadlines students should be aware of?
You want to register as soon as possible. The pre-registration deadline for the general election is Oct. 24, so if you register before then, your name will be on the register when you go to vote. Iowa law does allow people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day. But recent changes in the law have made the identification required to do that very specific and strict. (A valid Iowa driver’s license with a current address is required. Absent that, a valid ID is required along with a proof of address, such as a utility, paycheck or bank statement.) And we've seen situations on campus where people go into vote, but they’re not properly registered. So, they have to go home and to get some other identification. You want to avoid all that, you want to get registered to vote early. The other thing that I wanted to stress is making sure your registration is up to date, because, especially on a college campus, you have a lot of people who change their address every year. And you have to have the proper address when you go to vote. So make sure that's all taken care of. If you're uncertain as to whether your registration is up to date with your address, you can call our office at 319-833-3007.
COVID-19 has upended the voting process. Do you have advice for students concerned about voting in person during COVID?
When we held the primary election in June, it was under the same circumstances. We went to great lengths to make the polling places safe. We have hand sanitizer available for the workers and the voters. We have sanitary wipes that the workers use to wipe down the areas after voters are there. The tables where the precinct workers sit have clear acrylic screens set up between the voters and the workers. We have a person assigned in each precinct to open the door so the voter does not have to touch the door. We're providing masks for everybody and gloves if they want them, and we have marks on the floor for social distancing. So, we believe that we've done what we could, and we believe that what we've done is effective. I also wanted to point out that, as far as voting in-person goes, you can do that before the election as well. You can vote absentee in person at our office at the courthouse, in room 210 of the Black Hawk County Courthouse at 316, East Fifth St. in Waterloo, or at satellite locations on the UNI campus.
UNI is opening up the UNI-Dome for the first time as a voting location to allow the community to cast their vote while maintaining social distance guidelines. How will this help the voting process?
We've had voting on campus at UNI for a long time. And, usually, our main focus has been on the Maucker Union. So, as in the past, this gives students the opportunity to vote when it's convenient for them before Election Day. You don't have to worry about where you're going to be on Election Day, if you have class all day, or if you're sick or anything. You can pick one of those days we're going to be at the UNI-Dome and vote. It's a great way for students to schedule their own voting, still be able to vote in person and get it all taken care of before Election Day.
Besides overseeing Black Hawk County’s elections, you’re also a UNI alumnus. What made you choose UNI?
When I was graduating from high school, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. So, I went to a teacher's college, and I got a great education. I didn't end up being a teacher, but I met a lot of great people and had a lot of great teachers. It's one of the greatest experiences of my life going to college at the University of Northern Iowa. I got a bachelor’s degree in English, and a master’s degree in history. And history is kind of my passion. I knew a lot about elections and was familiar with the electoral process and consequences. And I think that prepared me for my role both in the auditor’s office and the election’s office. Just having a feel for what elections were all about helped me, even though there were myriad details of the process that I knew nothing about. But I was ready for it all, because I knew how important elections were, and they were always something that I was interested in.