When Reisetter arrived at the Polk County Election office early one morning last week, it seemed less an exercise of civic responsibility than a bid to finally get the 2012 campaign out of his life. And he didn’t want to talk about who he voted for.
“It’s like, enough,” he said.
Iowans such as Reisetter are suffering from what might be described as toxic levels of exposure to the 21st-century political campaign. President Obama’s organization never really left after 2008. Republicans who competed in last January’s precinct caucuses had begun stalking voters here soon after the 2010 midterm elections.
Iowa’s status as a 2012 battleground state has meant a daily bombardment of television and radio ads, door knocks, candidate visits and celebrity events designed to entice laggards — or “highly valuable sporadic voters,” as one Obama strategist calls them — to register. Jon Bon Jovi, for example, played concerts in Iowa City and Des Moines on Friday for the Obama campaign.
The state’s 40-day early voting period began Sept. 27, and as of Thursday, 94,135 Iowans had cast their ballots. That amounts to roughly 6 percent of the electorate and more early voters so far than in all 49 others states and the District combined. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, who oversees voting, said Reisetter’s complaint is familiar.
“I think you’re seeing a lot of people here who just want to get their names off of the lists,” said Fitzgerald, referring to the lists of voters who have ordered absentee ballots but who haven’t mailed or walked them in.
“There’s probably a bit of voter fatigue,” said David Kochel, Mitt Romney’s lead Iowa strategist.
Early voting— meaning absentee ballot by mail or in person — has essentially ended “Election Day” as most people have known it here. For six weeks, two spheres of political activity once wholly separate — campaigning and voting — are completely fused.
Under Iowa law, county officials can open a satellite polling place just about anywhere if they receive a petition with at least 100 signatures. Campaigns have used the provisions to strategically spot 13 “petitioned” sites in Polk County precincts rich with their voters.
For Obama, that means places such as Drake University’s student center and La Tapatia Tienda Mexicana, a bustling market in the city’s Capitol East neighborhood. For Romney, it means the Woodland Hills Church of Christ in suburban Pleasant Hill and the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Elkhart.
The early-voting stakes are especially high in Iowa. On Election Day 2008, Republican John McCain received more votes than Obama. But Obama won the state by 10 percentage points on the basis of his success in banking early ballots. Thirty-six percent of the Iowa electorate voted early.