Satellites sites are lighting up in Iowa

Oct 24, 2012

In a number of swing states, early voting means people are already casting their ballots. Usually this entails voting by mail, or visiting your county elections office. But in Iowa satellite voting is increasingly popular and means something completely different, as Iowa public Radios’s Sandhya Dirks reports

It’s a bright autumn afternoon in a strip mall on the west side of Des Moines and families are stopping by La Tapatia Tienda Mexicana to get their weekly groceries.  Mary Campos is sitting in her walker at the entrance,"Buenos dios..."

She’s here trying get shoppers to vote, Because today only,this Latino grocery store has been transformed into a satellite polling place. "You can go on in and vote right now," Campos says it’s literally a one stop shop. You can pick up dinner, register, and vote. She says this polling place helps prevent voters from falling thought the cracks, "People work, they have two jobs, and we don’t know what it’s gonna be like on Nov 6th. I’ve encouraged absentee ballots, but I think this is wonderful, to have satellite places where they can go vote."

As Campos is talking, Ernesto Garcia walks out of the store. Garcia says he was worried about when – and where - to vote.

"I’m a truck driver so I don’t know where I’m gonna be able to go, he says well, there’s gonna be one at the Tapatia, I said okay I go there."

Here’s how you set up a satellite voting spot in Iowa.  All you need is one hundred signatures, and you petition county officials. It is that easy. The polling booth here was petitioned by the Obama Campaign. Democrats are staging events to highlight pop up voting, just across the street Latino’s for Obama are having a block party, complete with music, tamales, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Viallaraigosa: "Today is a little rally to make sure we all go and vote early, we've heard it… oh Viallaraigosa, I forgot to vote, I was working… Nah, nah, nah, nah… you can vote today, you can vote across the street… Vote Vote vote..."

"Vote vote vote"

You might recognize that second voice, it's Bruce Springsteen at Iowa State University.  He's got the same message for a different demographic, college students. Campuses are a huge hotspot for satellite voting, in a two week there will be 53 pop up polling booths on campuses across the state. Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford says that's a savvy move on the part of democrats, "because so much of the democratic turnout is younger voters and minority voters who tend to be less likely to vote." 

Tom Szold is with the Republican National Committee and he says the GOP has petitioned for satellite voting too, "we mostly put those in areas with low to mid propensity GOP voters. So the type of people who lean to the right, but aren't necessarily the ones that go out and make sure that they vote for the republican candidates on election day." 

Szold acknowledges the democrat's emphasis on early voting. That’s because traditionally republicans win the turnout race on election day.

But satellite voting isn't just about partisan politics. In a parking lot outside of Legends sports bar in Marshalltown there is a row of Harley Davidsons, about five pick-up trucks, and a trailer emblazoned with a huge sign: VOTE HERE. 

This is the first mobile voting booth in Iowa. This polling place on wheels was set up by county auditor Dawn Williams. She borrowed a race car trailer, and they've been parking it in front of a Hyvee grocery store, a bar, and a Walmart. Williams stops by the trailer to see how things are going, and she says, "we've caught lots of nontraditional voters, you can just tell when they come in that they’re nontraditional, and I believe that should be the purpose for satellite voting."

Like so many who voted here today, Williams says getting here was easy, she was on her way to shop at Walmart anyway. In Marshalltown,  I’m Sandhya Dirks, for Iowa Public Radio News.