Linn County already has started processing almost 80,000 absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, after some social media back and forth with the Iowa Secretary of State.
The Linn County’s Absentee Ballot and Special Voters Precinct Board began counting ballots at 7 a.m. Monday. As of Monday morning, election officials had 79,127 ballots to process, County Auditor Joel Miller said.
Election boards across the state have until 10 p.m. on election night to count absentee ballots, according to Iowa Code 53.23.
Miller raised some concern — and frustration — via social media over the weekend. He said he didn’t know about the deadline for absentee ballots until last weekend.
In a blog post on Saturday, Miller included an email he wrote to Heidi Burhans, director of elections for the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, voicing his concern if something were to happen to one of the DS850 machines that are used to count ballots or if any other sort of breakdown in the process would happen.
Burhans responded to Miller’s email on Friday, Oct. 30, pointing out that the two machines together have the capacity to count 600 ballots per minute.
“You can begin counting absentee ballots at 12:00 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, which means there are 46 hours available for counting prior to 10:00 p.m. on Election Day,” Burhans wrote.
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“Opening and separating the affidavit envelopes from the secrecy sleeves tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 31) allows Monday and Tuesday to be devoted to counting ballots.”
Miller tweeted that board workers had opened 53,000 absentee ballot envelopes on Halloween but had to stop at 5 p.m. He wrote that, on Monday, they had to open the remaining 27,000 envelopes and start counting ballots.
Iowa’s Secretary of State Paul Pate responded to Miller’s tweet on Sunday to say the auditor had a full 24 hours on Saturday to prepare ballots.
“You could have worked from 12 a.m.-11:59 p.m.,” Pate tweeted. “It’s sad you chose not to. Stop spreading misinformation. Be prepared. Do your job.”
Miller and the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office both told The Gazette that all absentee ballots will be counted before the deadline.
Miller said Linn County will be done counting the absentee ballots by midnight before Election Day, 22 hours before the deadline.
“That’s the goal,” Miller told The Gazette. “I’m not taking a chance with running into some barrier the Secretary of State has erected … . He ought to be ashamed of himself. ... I’m hopeful no one will be affected by this deadline.”
Kevin Hall, communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, said eligible ballots will be counted.
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“Every eligible ballot will be counted. Period,” Hall said Monday. “It’s a state law, but obviously there’s a variety of situations that could come up. We’re not going to get into hypotheticals.
“It’s not an issue, but we have one county auditor trying to make it one.”
Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said, too, he was “a little surprised” by the 10 p.m. deadline.
“Only because if there’s equipment issues or anything,” Weipert said. “I’m almost 100 percent certain we will make the deadline.
“But if 10 rolls around, I don’t see how you can’t just keep counting votes that were already in your possession. You would be disenfranchising voters at that point.”
Weipart said Johnson County has two of the same DS850 ballot counting machines Linn County possesses. But he said his office will be working into the evening, not around the clock as Linn County is.
He added as of Sunday night Johnson County had just shy of 59,000 absentee ballots. The line of cars for the county’s drive-through voting station was around a mile long on Monday morning, he added.
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