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Election Day Update From Iowa

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is Election Day, and as voters line up at polling places around the country, we are hearing from NPR member station reporters dotted out across different parts of the nation. We're going to go now to Iowa, where final polls have showed President Trump and Joe Biden in a close heat. President Trump flipped the state in 2016. And we've got Kate Payne of Iowa Public Radio with us. She is at a polling place in Cedar Rapids. Good morning, Kate.

KATE PAYNE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So there are a lot of people in Iowa and across the country who chose not to show up on Election Day, but to vote by mail this year, to vote early in some cases. So in light of that, what does it look like where you are right now?

PAYNE: Yeah, so I am outside the First Lutheran Church, a polling place here in downtown Cedar Rapids. And there were about two dozen people who were in line when doors opened around 7 a.m. And it's been a steady trickle since then, so people are definitely still coming out to vote on Election Day. But we've already seen record voter turnout in Iowa from absentee voting, so people sending in ballots by mail or voting early in person. Nearly a million voters cast their ballots before Election Day.

So it's just been an incredible turnout. But we may still see another 600,000 people go to the polls today - is one estimate. And, yeah, one of the voters that I spoke to today was named Tonya Para (ph). She's a housekeeping manager at a Hampton Inn. And she was really excited to vote today on Election Day. She felt good about the COVID-19 protocols at this polling place. But she also felt nervous about how the country might handle the results as they come in and said she really wanted all of the votes to be counted. Here's what she said.

TONYA PARA: I'm curious as what's going to happen. You know, whoever wins, I think it could go bad either way. We need to get our country back together - that's all.

PAYNE: And so she said she's just really stressed about the pressure that the country has been in, particularly under the coronavirus pandemic. And she's just really hoping for resolution and for unity.

MARTIN: I mean, explain again about the traffic that you're seeing at the polling places because it's my understanding that a lot of them are closed down - right? - because of the pandemic. Does that mean that the stations that are open are seeing an influx? Or can they handle it, I guess, is really the question?

PAYNE: Yeah. So we've found that more than 200 polling places in Iowa have been closed since 2016. The vast majority of the voters affected are in urban parts of the state. And so that has been a concern from local officials of - will they be seeing more people coming to fewer polling places because they've had to close so many or consolidate, combine polling places?

MARTIN: Right. Kate, I just want to stop you there because I said they were closed to the pandemic, and you just said something important - it wasn't just the pandemic; they were consolidating polling places after 2016, huh?

PAYNE: And local officials say it's largely due to the pandemic. So because of the pandemic, they've been short on poll workers, who aren't comfortable. They've seen locations drop out, of not being willing to host voters.

MARTIN: OK.

PAYNE: So largely tied to the pandemic. But, again, urging early voting before today.

MARTIN: Right. So what about the actual COVID rates in Iowa? I mean, how is that affecting things?

PAYNE: So it's been surging lately here. We have higher hospitalization rates now in the state of Iowa than we've had at any other point in the pandemic. And so that has been a concern from local officials, local election officials, too, of potentially - they've told me they've had voters come and actually tell them they have been positive for COVID and still casting their ballot.

MARTIN: Kate Payne of Iowa Public Radio. Thank you.

PAYNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.