116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A recount in a close Linn County statehouse race is being done this week out of “optics” and to put the Democratic county auditor “on notice” over an error — since corrected — in the reporting of its early vote counts, according to the Republican member appointed to the recount board.
A bipartisan, three-member board began recounting ballots Tuesday in Iowa House District 73, one of three legislative races being recounted statewide where Democrats won in the Nov. 8 elections according to unofficial results.
Republican Susie Weinacht, a former Cedar Rapids City Council member, asked for a recount in the statehouse race, where she trails Democrat Elizabeth Wilson by about 300 votes for an open seat, according to unofficial results.
Because the race's margin was more than 1 percent of the total number of votes counted, Weinacht paid a $150 bond to the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. According to the most recent totals, 14,292 votes were cast in the House District 73 race.
The bond, however, does not cover the cost of county staff time to run tabulators and scanners, oversee the security of the ballots and otherwise facilitate the recount. A cost that will be picked up by taxpayers and depend on how quickly the recount is completed, said Matt Warfield, Linn County deputy commissioner of elections.
Under Iowa law, the recount board — which includes a representative chosen by each candidate and a third mutually chosen representative — can determine whether it wants to do a hand recount, machine recount or both.
A hand recount would allow the board to gauge intent if a voter failed to properly mark the ballot, but would be time-consuming and involve roughly 45,000 ballots, Warfield said. That includes sorting through some 28,700 absentee ballots again to determine which early voters cast a ballot in that statehouse race.
Warfield estimated a machine recount could be completed within three days, but a hand recount could take up to 98 hours and likely could not be completed by a state-imposed deadline of Monday.
James Conklin of Marion, a former chair of the Linn County Republican Party Central Committee who was appointed by Weinacht, pushed for a hand recount and urged the board to ignore the statutory deadline and possible legal repercussions.
Conklin said he did not expect to find enough votes to overturn the results, “but that’s not the reason.” He cited “shenanigans” on Election Day by the Linn County Auditor’s Office, including erroneously leaving an election for a county supervisor off the ballot in one precinct and an error reporting its early vote counts.
Absent a postelection audit of the race, which a recount is not, Conklin — who repeatedly said he had no evidence of impropriety by the Linn County Auditor’s Office — argued a hand recount was necessary to hold Auditor Joel Miller and his office accountable.
“We can’t audit any of the process. But at least we can put the auditor’s office and some of their people on notice that if there’s that many shenanigans, we are going to do everything we can legally to make sure we look at this stuff,” Conklin said.
Miller, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate in the Nov. 8 election, did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.
Conklin said the recount was delayed due to objections and disagreements between he and Linda Langston, a former Linn County supervisor appointed by Wilson, over who to select as a third member. Both Conklin and Langston eventually chose Cedar Rapids lawyer Frank Mitvalsky.
In the end, Langston and Mitvalsky voted to conduct a machine recount. Both said they were not opposed to a hand recount but were worried about the board being able to meet the deadline.
“The real reason people are pushing for this (recount) is because of the optics of that night,” Conklin said. “So, when we’re done, if all we do is a machine count — I’m all for that --- but I’m going to make sure people understand it was done for expediency.”
According to the Linn County Auditor’s Office, a computer froze while the county’s absentee ballot counts were being uploaded on election night. The process was completed on a backup computer, but officials believe 600 ballots were inadvertently reported twice.
The discrepancy was discovered by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, which alerted the Linn County Auditor’s Office. The Auditor’s Office resolved it and the posted results were corrected.
But as a result, the unofficial results of the House District 73 shifted from showing Weinacht in the lead on election night to Wilson winning by about 300 votes.
“It doesn’t smell right to people,” Conklin said.
Similar issues occurred in Scott County, where 47 voters in a Davenport precinct were given the wrong ballots and a discrepancy of nearly 500 absentee ballots found in the tallies on election night led to a week of administrative recounts of the county’s absentee ballots. Scott County has a Republican auditor.
On election night, Republican Luana Stoltenberg appeared to be ahead by 29 votes in House District 81, but after the administrative recounts, Democrat Craig Cooper took the lead by six votes.
Stoltenberg requested a recount, which was also scheduled to begin Tuesday. Also, Republican Doug Campbell requested a recount in District 49 in Cerro Gordo County, where he trails Democrat Sharon Steckman.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office said it planned to send letters of inquiry to both the Linn County and Scott County auditors, and has been in touch with both the Linn County and Scott County Attorneys and Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
However, as of Tuesday afternoon, the letters had not been sent, a spokesman for the Iowa Secretary of State said.
“Joel Miller and I have not always agreed,” Langston said. “But I don’t have any issues with the office and the people who work here and their desire to do a good job.”
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