116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A bipartisan, three-member board will recount ballots cast in a close Linn County statehouse race starting Tuesday, one of three legislative races being recounted statewide where Democrats won according to unofficial results.
Democrat Elizabeth Wilson edged Republican Susie Weinacht by 305 votes out more than 14,000 votes counted in the Nov. 8 election for an open seat in Iowa House District 73, according to unofficial results.
Weinacht, a former Cedar Rapids City Council member, requested a recount of ballots cast in all 16 precincts within the district, including absentee ballots. The district covers a portion of southeast Cedar Rapids and much of northern and eastern Marion.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Monday to order a recount of votes for the District 73 election, a formality required by Iowa law, said Matt Warfield, Linn County deputy commissioner of elections.
Weinacht did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday afternoon. Warfield said Weinacht did not provide a reason for requesting a recount.
Wilson, while surprised, acknowledged Weinacht’s right to a recount and said she does not expect it will change the results.
“I don’t know her particular rationale for the recount,” Wilson, a former Linn-Mar school board member, said of Weinacht. “It’s all within her purview to do that. I don’t feel worried about it.”
Often, recounts don’t change more than a few dozen votes. In 2020, a total of 41 votes changed out of nearly 400,000 ballots cast during a districtwide recount in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, which spanned 24 counties. In 2018, vote recounts in two close Iowa House races did not change the outcome of the elections. And recounts in three other Iowa House races this year across the state did not change the winner.
Under Iowa law, a candidate can request a recount up to three days after the county board’s canvass of the election, which was Nov. 15. Weinacht submitted her request for a recount on Nov. 17.
Because the race's margin was more than 1 percent of the total number of ballots cast, Weinacht paid a $150 bond to the Iowa Secretary of State's Office.
Per Iowa law, a three-person, volunteer recount board that includes representatives chosen by each candidate will convene starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday to conduct the recount, said Warfield. Auditor's Office staff does not conduct the actual counting in a candidate-requested recount, but instead supervises as a custodian of the ballots.
Weinacht selected James Conklin of Marion, a former Linn County Republican Party Central Committee chair, to be her representative on the board. Wilson chose Linda Langston, a former Linn County supervisor, as her representative. Both Conklin and Langston chose Cedar Rapids lawyer Frank Mitvalsky as the third member.
Conklin said he does not expect to find enough votes to overturn the results of the race, “but that’s not the reason.” He cited what he deemed “serious issues” 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.
“I’m trying to help make sure the ballot box is safe,” Conklin said. “I don’t trust our auditor, and when I was asked (to serve on the recount board), I jumped at it.”
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 — once during the original attempt and again during the backup attempt.
The discrepancy was discovered by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, which then alerted the Linn County Auditor’s Office. The Auditor’s Office resolved the tabulation, and the posted results were corrected, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.
“Sounds to me like there are great checks and balances in place to make sure that (the election) is accurate,” Wilson said.
The recount board’s first order of business will be to decide whether to recount votes by hand, by machines used on Election Day, or both, Warfield said. Under Iowa’s recount laws, the recount board can determine precinct by precinct if they want to do a hand recount, machine recount or both, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.
A hand recount would allow the board to gauge intent if a voter failed to properly mark the ballot, such as circling a candidate’s name instead of filling in the oval next to their name, or crossing out a mistaken selection and filling in the correct one.
But a hand recount of all precincts 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 the statehouse race.
Warfield estimated a machine recount could be completed within two days, whereas a hand recount “would be a struggle to finish” by a state-imposed deadline of 5 p.m. Monday. By comparison, a hand recount of roughly 8,000 ballots cast last year in a Marion City Council race took three days to complete, Warfield said.
The State Board of Canvassers will meet Thursday to certify state election results. Any recount that has not been done will not be included and a separate special canvass will occur, said Kevin Hall, communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State.
Republican candidates have also requested recounts in two other Iowa House districts races where they closely trail Democrats.
Republican Doug Campbell requested a recount in District 49 in Cerro Gordo County, where he trails Democrat Sharon Steckman by 739 votes out of 11,922 cast. A three-member recount board began recounting votes Monday morning and is expected to finish by the end of the week, said Cerro Gordo County Auditor Adam Wedmore.
In Scott County, Republican Luana Stoltenberg requested a recount scheduled to begin Tuesday in District 81. On election night, Stoltenberg appeared to be ahead by 29 votes. But, following a week of administrative recounts of the county’s absentee ballots, Democrat Craig Cooper took the lead by six votes.
The administrative recounts there, called for by the county auditor and Iowa Secretary of State, were prompted by a discrepancy of nearly 500 absentee ballots found in the tallies on election night. Stoltenberg requested a recount last week, telling a reporter the Scott County’s tallies still didn't appear to reconcile, even after the recounts.
Comments: (319) 398-8499; email@example.com
Erin Murphy of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau and Sarah Watson of the Quad City Times contributed to this report.