DES MOINES — After nearly two years of candidate visits, campaign events, polling calls, fundraising solicitations and untold hours of speechifying, Iowans will render their verdict on the 2012 election today with the eyes of the nation watching to see whether the state’s six electoral votes swing to Democratic President Barack Obama or his GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
Iowans also will decide which candidates will represent the state’s four redrawn congressional districts in the U.S. House, which political parties will control the Iowa Legislature, and whether to retain Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins and a host of other judges serving on the bench.
A sizable number of Iowa’s eligible electors already have taken advantage of absentee or early-voting options. Chad Olsen of the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office said the fact that 640,248 Iowans had voted early as of Saturday likely means that those who prefer casting their ballots in Iowa’s 1,688 precincts should encounter shorter lines when they show up to vote. The previous record for early voting was 545,739 ballots cast in 2008.
For other Iowans fatigued over countless campaign-related television ads, phone calls and candidate visits, today couldn’t arrive too soon.
“The campaigns and the Super PACs have pretty much blasted us out of our living rooms with ads,” said Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt. “It shows you what a desperate year it is when these people come to Iowa with only six electoral votes so many times.”
With Iowa allowing eligible residents to register to vote on Election Day, predicting how many Iowans will turn out to vote becomes more difficult, state experts say.
A total of 1,546,452 Iowans cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election, which represented nearly 71.3 percent of registered voters. By contrast, slightly more than 80 percent of the eligible voters turned out for the 1992 presidential election.
Nationwide, key indicators of 2012 voter turnout — collected by Gallup, Inc., before Superstorm Sandy — suggest voter turnout will fall short of what it was in 2004 and 2008. However, the 2012 figures are higher than in 1996 and 2000, two lower-turnout elections.
Those national trends may not apply to Iowa, which is included in a shortlist of key battleground states that are expected to decide the presidential electoral outcome, said Dave Peterson, an associate professor of political science at Iowa State University.
“I think it’s going to close to a record if not a record,” he said. “People are paying close attention and I think people know that it matters.”
Most political scientists are leaving open the possibility that the presidential race may be so close in unofficial results tonight in key battleground states — including Iowa — that the election’s final outcome might take extra time or official canvassing to decipher.
“I’ve been telling groups that I’ve been talking to lately I hope to God this is over on Tuesday night but there’s a reasonable chance that it might not be,” said Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said.
Schmidt said he does not want to see the country go through another ordeal like the prolonged delay in Florida in 2000 before Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore.
“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen … but it could be a late night at the least,” he said.