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Parties Swap Iowa Absentee Ballot Charges

September 30, 2004

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Democrats are trying to pull something funny with absentee ballots, the Republicans are telling Iowa voters. No, it’s just the Republicans trying to scare people out of voting, the Democrats retort.

The intensity of the dispute reflects the parties’ efforts to get Iowans to vote _ their way _ either on Nov. 2 or in absentee balloting that’s already under way.

Automated telephone calls started by the Republicans last week accuse the Democrats of undermining the integrity of absentee voting and warn voters, ``Don’t let these shadowy organizations jeopardize your vote.″

``It’s voter suppression,″ said Jean Hessburg, executive director of the state Democratic Party. ``These calls are clearly designed to confuse or scare voters.″

Not so, the Republicans reply, with heat.

``Your dishonesty is offensive,″ said Gentry Collins, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, in a letter to top Democrats this week. ``It is stunning that you take pride in your voter contact efforts that are spearheaded by America Coming Together.″

Jeff Link, the head of that anti-Bush group and a former top aide to Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, fired back in yet another letter to the Republicans: ``It is clear that you are trying to undermine public faith in the fairness and trustworthiness of the absentee ballot process.″

Under Iowa election law, anyone can request an absentee ballot and cast a vote before Nov. 2, and both parties are seeking to get as many votes in the bank as possible before Election Day.

Early signs are that Democrats have an edge in collecting the absentee vote. In Polk County, election officials said that as of Thursday there were 22,714 absentee requests from Democrats, compared with 9,237 requests from Republicans. An additional 6,736 requests came from voters not declaring a party affiliation.

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