Voting may be a little too easy in Iowa. It takes just a few hundred signatures to force your county to open an early voting station (for what's oxymoronically called "absentee voting in person") at your preferred location. These have included churches on Sundays and now union halls, meaning these groups can preach "non-partisanly" to the converted and then show them to the polling booths.
But it's the courier system that seems most amazing, and potentially alarming, to a jaded outsider. I tagged along with Ann Sokolowski, a volunteer courier for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Des Moines, as she drove around collecting absentee ballots from fellow Democrats. We were welcomed into the kitchen of Ed and Rosa Walker, an older couple who can't make it to the polls because of health problems. They happily chattered about why they were voting for Kerry, and then handed over their absentee ballots to Sokolowski. She carefully avoided giving them any voting advice, which would be against the law. Then she plopped the ballots in a plastic shopping bag and we moved on.
And I thought: I sure am glad they don't have this system in Chicago or Miami.
I have no doubt that Sokolowski acts with equal probity when a reporter isn't standing next to her. But could less scrupulous couriers of either party pressure voters or "disappear" ballots on the way to the county office? It honestly wouldn't be that hard.
"On the plus side," said Bush-Cheney state chairman Dave Roederer, "[this system] gives more people the opportunity to vote. On the negative side, it does increase the likeliness of mischief." The Republicans also have couriers, but Roederer told me his side will only send them out if called. He alleged that some voters have complained of undue persuasion from couriers.
The Democrats appear more enthusiastic about the benefits of early voting. They urge their voters to get absentee ballots, and then call them to offer couriers for pick-up. As Van Ostern put it, "We're out getting thousands of votes, and putting them in the bank for Election Day."
So while the opinion polls teeter back and forth and the candidates continue to lavish attention on the Hawkeye State, it's possible this race has already been decided in Iowa. But we won't know until we see what both sides have put in the "bank."