IOWA CITY — In the weeks before Election Day, University of Iowa students will have a dozen places on campus to vote for President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney.
Residents in the heavily Latino city of Denison will be able to cast ballots at a Mexican grocery store. Those living in the Republican-leaning Des Moines suburbs will get to vote early at evangelical churches. And voters in the state's most conservative county, Sioux, will be able to make their picks at a small-town library.
Iowa is one of 32 states that allow early voting, and both presidential campaigns are trying to take advantage of an unusual state law that gives political supporters a big say in where the ballots are cast. As voting begins Thursday, the sudden profusion of conspicuously Obama-friendly or Romney-friendly polling places in this key battleground state will serve as a novel example of how the trend toward flexibility is morphing the tenets of Election Day across the nation.
Iowa's law allows anyone who gets the signatures of 100 county voters to choose a specific voting place in that county. Election officials must hold balloting at that site for at least one day in the 40 days before the Nov. 6 election. The law is apparently the only one of its kind in the nation, said Jennie Bowser, who tracks election law at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Both campaigns filed a batch of petitions before last week's deadline calling for satellite voting at locations carefully chosen to make it as easy as possible for their backers to vote.
"This is substantially more than we had in the last presidential," said Tim Box, an elections administrator in Linn County, the state's second-largest, which received 12 petitions from the campaigns. He is preparing to operate sites at a union hall, on three college campuses and at an African-American church in response to Obama campaign petitions and at Lutheran churches where voting was sought by Romney's backers.