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Scott County absentee recount gets underway
470-vote discrepancy in absentee totals discovered after last week’s election
Sarah Watson - Quad-City Times
Nov. 15, 2022 8:12 pm
DAVENPORT — A recount of absentee ballots was underway Tuesday in Scott County after a 470-vote discrepancy in absentee totals was found last week.
Scott County Auditor Kerri Tompkins told a room full of observers, journalists and elections officials that the county was hoping to finish the partial recount by the end of the day and planned to post results online once finished and reconciled.
Two close local races — one for a Davenport Iowa House seat separated by 29 votes and another for county recorder separated by 173 votes — could be affected by the recount.
More than 23,000 absentee ballots filled 10 sealed boxes stacked in an upper-floor room of the Scott County Administrative Building to be recounted Tuesday morning.
Three members of a county elections board opened the seal on the boxes and fed piles of ballots into machines.
The whirring of ballots being counted served as background noise over the conversations of roughly 30 observers, including candidates of narrow races and political party members.
Being counted were all of Scott County's absentee ballots — votes cast at satellite early voting locations, at the county auditor’s office, ballots cast by mail, from health care facilities, and from those stationed overseas.
The Iowa secretary of state tweeted late Thursday last week, calling for a recount of Scott County's absentee vote totals because of a tabulation error. On Friday afternoon, Tompkins issued a news release that said an initial staff evaluation found a 470-ballot discrepancy in the vote totals.
On Tuesday morning, Tompkins told supervisors that 470 ballots weren't counted by the machines, but county staff weren't sure why.
"I can tell you that the number of envelopes that went into the room, and the number of ballots that left the room match. The number that went through the machine does not," Tompkins said. "I couldn't tell you if it was a machine that jammed and something happened, or if there was a stack of ballots that unfortunately didn't make it through the machine. And that is why we're doing the recount."
Tompkins said there were no immediate plans to do any by-hand recounting.
Earlier Tuesday, Scott County supervisors unanimously approved conducting the recount, which was brought to a vote on advice from County Attorney Mike Walton. The supervisors will meet again at 8 a.m. Wednesday to vote to accept any changes in results.
Two Scott County races close
In two Scott County races, unofficial results released Tuesday night showed candidates were separated by a slim margin.
In House District 81, representing the northwest quadrant of Davenport, Republican Luana Stoltenberg led Democrat Craig Cooper by 29 votes on election night. Neither is an incumbent lawmaker.
Scott County Recorder Rita Vargas, a 20-year incumbent Democrat, was 173 votes ahead of her Republican challenger, Michele Darland, on election night.
Vargas was the only Democrat to prevail in a competitive race in Scott County, according to unofficial election night results.
Scott County Democrats critical
During the supervisors meeting, Democratic supervisor and state Rep.-elect Ken Croken criticized Tompkins' handling of the election.
He pointed to the 470-ballot discrepancy as well as an incident in which 47 voters in a Davenport precinct were given the wrong ballots.
In the latter, two races were affected, meaning those 47 voters weren't able to vote in an uncontested state Senate race or a state House race where Croken prevailed with more than 70 percent of the vote.
"There are 47 people who went to the polls intending to vote for their state senator and representative and who were denied that opportunity," Croken said.
Tompkins said the state's guidance was to remake the 47 ballots, meaning the election workers of both parties filled out those voters' choices on new, correct ballots and left the state representative and senator fields blank. The voting machine rejected the original ballots.
Tompkins said the incident was "unfortunate" but it had been dealt with, and didn't affect competitive races.
Cindy Winckler, the unopposed Democratic candidate for Senate in that precinct, accused the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office of disparate treatment in the way it is handling a ballot issue in Linn County, where the auditor’s office erroneously left an election for a supervisor off the ballot in one precinct.
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller is a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate in the Nov. 8 election.
Winckler argues the Secretary of State’s Office has been more lenient in its public statements of the Scott County ballot issue compared to the ballot issue in Linn County.
“It’s different even with the verbiage coming from the secretary of state,” she said. “It’s not as tough or consistently critical of Scott County as they are of Linn County.”
But the Secretary of State's Office says it is sending both counties a letter of inquiry, the purpose of which is to get a report when alleged issues occur in the county, according to an office spokesperson.
As it did with Linn County, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office will send a letter of inquiry to the Scott County auditor about the ballot counting issue, and has been in touch with the Scott County Attorney and the Iowa attorney general, a spokesperson for the state office told The Gazette.
Gazette reporter Tom Barton contributed to this report.