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Cost to vote in Ames Straw Poll: $30

With all the fuss over the Ames Straw Poll coming up Aug. 13, and talk of its importance to the campaigns of both Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, keep in mind that it's not exactly a shining example of grass-roots democracy.

It costs $30 for Iowa residents to cast their straw in the poll.

In some ways, it is more about the ability of the campaigns to help their supporters show up and vote than it is a good showing of overall support.

Bachmann's campaign says it will pay the $30 fee for her supporters, the Los Angeles Times reported. Tim Pawlenty paid $50,000 to rent buses to drive supporters to Ames, Politico said.

They care so much because the media cares, and it's important for the campaigns to have some early successes and show viability to keep the funds rolling in.

The Ames Tribune says those attending get two kinds of experiences: the free kind, in the tents and exhibits outside the basketball arena, where the candidates have paid for space. Candidates scheduled to appear are: Bachmann, Pawlenty, Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, Ron Paul of Texas; Georgia businessman Herman Cain; and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

More logistics from the Ames paper:

“The candidates are responsible for renting tents, generators, ice machines and purchasing refreshments," [said Casey Mills, spokesman for the Republican Party of Iowa].

Entertainment also will be the responsibility of the candidates, he said. For example, Bachmann’s campaign has announced there will be live music at her venue.

No admission will be charged to any event outside the basketball arena, Mills said.

“The grounds will not be roped off or snow-fenced,” he said, which means the public won’t be kept from going into the tents, visiting with candidates or enjoying whatever free refreshments the candidates choose to offer.

To vote in the straw poll, however, there’s a price. 

Voting, the second half of the straw poll experience, will take place inside Hilton Coliseum and the nearby Scheman building. For that, each voter will have to verify Iowa residency and buy a $30 ticket.

According to the Republican Party of Iowa website, tickets will be on sale at the grounds on the day of the poll, and advance sales are available online at www.iowagop.org.

Voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Story County Auditor Lucy Martin said the county will put up 104 voting booths in the Scheman Building and Hilton Auditorium, and will count the votes on 10 county-owned voting machines.

The county will charge the state party for the booths, machines and at least one employee from the auditor’s office who will be stationed with each counting machine, Martin said.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office will send representatives to oversee and verify all of the votes, she said.

Although they aren’t scheduled to be there in person, three other announced GOP presidential candidates will be on the ballot, too: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. A write-in option also will be available.

Between noon and 3:30 p.m. the day of the poll, ticket holders can attend a program that will include 15-minute speeches by each of the six candidates.

“Voting ends at 4 p.m., and our goal is to have the results available no later than 6 p.m.,” Mills said.

Although the event is a fundraiser for the state party, paid admission also helps defray the cost of putting on the event, Mills said.

“We know that some (critics say) holding this event makes for a seven-figure windfall (for the party),” he said. “But we pay six figures to lease the parking lot, six figures for Hilton and six figures for the Iowa State Center.”

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