In the lead up to the upcoming June 2 primary, every registered Iowa voter across the state has received an Absentee Ballot Request Form, courtesy of the Secretary of State office’s effort to shift voters toward absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign has paid off, as entering Saturday, roughly 1,500 Story County residents have requested an absentee ballot, which doesn’t include international ballots.

However, local advocacy groups are urging residents who are submitting and mailing their ballot request forms to protect sensitive information and avoid potential voter suppression.

“This is the first year that every Iowan has received a form to request an absentee ballot in light of the restriction caused by COVID-19,” said Linda Hagedorn, president of the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County. “But we want to make sure that in the process of requesting a ballot, that voters can be ensured that their privacy is protected.”

To receive a ballot, voters must enter information that includes their full name, birthdate, driver’s license number, full address, phone number, email address, political party and a signature.

However, Hagedorn said there have been voter concerns with an instruction from the secretary of state’s office to tear the tab to detach the top of the mailer and to place it in the mail as a postcard, which could leave Iowans personal and sensitive information at risk.

“We have concerns from people who are wary of their personal information on that postcard that could be viewed by postal workers and others who might be handling the form,” said Hagedorn. “This isn’t a statement against the hard-working postal workers or the secretary state’s office, but addressing concerns of Iowans who may feel their sensitive information could be used against them.”

Kevin Hall, communications director for the Secretary of State’s office told the Tribune on Thursday the request form mailer was created in conjunction with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Hall said mailing the form as a postcard format can guarantee it will be accepted and mailed by the USPS.

“The trifold design was highly recommended by the experts we consulted because the postcard format guarantees acceptance and delivery by the USPS,” Hall said. “The USPS has assured us that information sent through the mail is safe and only viewed by employees of the USPS who are bound by federal laws regarding confidentiality.”

Hall also suggests alternative ways to mail the form to ensure both security of voter information and a successfully mailed form.

Voters can cut off the bottom panel of the form above the header “Steps To Request An Absentee Ballot,” folding the remaining panels together, tape the top and sides of the paper before mailing it.

A second measure voters can take is to fold the paper so that the county auditor’s address appears on the top, and drop it off in a collection box in front of the Story County Administration Building.

“For residents who are anxious about their information being on the front of the mailer, we encourage them to fold the paper so that the auditor’s office address is on the front of the postcard,” said Lucy Martin, Story County Auditor. “I can understand why there may be concerns with people’s information, but this a trusted process and there are confidentiality laws in place to protect voter information.”

Hagedorn said while the request form might take some navigating, the absentee ballot process is ultimately a reliable tool for voters during this pandemic.

“The absentee ballot itself is a reliable system for voter and we have not seen too many issues on that front,” she said. “We want to ensure that during this pandemic that voters can be able to participate in the political process.”

On the ballot for Story County voters on June 2 includes the five-person Democratic primary to decide a challenger for Republican Sen. Joni Ernst seat, and Rep. Steve King will be in a five-person Republican primary as he seeks a tenth term as Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District representative.

On the local front, there is a Republican primary for the four-year Board of Supervisors seat between Steven O’Rourke and Patrick Sparks.