IOWA LEGISLATURE

Democrats pushing ahead on Iowa recount reform

Republicans await U.S. House decision

Todd Pettys, a law professor at the University of Iowa, fills out a form Nov. 18 during a recount of ballots in the 2nd
Todd Pettys, a law professor at the University of Iowa, fills out a form Nov. 18 during a recount of ballots in the 2nd Congressional District race at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. Democrats in the Legislature are working on proposal to reform Iowa’s election recount in the wake of the close race for the U.S. House seat. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

State Democratic lawmakers plan to push forward a bipartisan proposal to reform Iowa’s election recount process in the wake of issues that arose in Iowa’s historically close U.S. House race, which still is being challenged in Congress.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they will not wade into the issue until after the U.S. House resolves the disputed outcome in southeast Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

“We’re going to let the process play out in the (U.S.) House” before taking up or passing any proposed election reforms, said Davenport Republican state Sen. Roby Smith, chairman the Iowa Senate State Government Committee responsible for advancing such bills. “We can look at it this year and pass it next year, before the general election in 2022.”

Wilton Republican state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, chairman of the House State Government Committee, echoed Smith.

Democrats, however, say they’re hopeful to get a bipartisan proposal passed yet this session that both parties can support.

“I’d like us to be able to have a discussion about that and to have some give and take about what should be in that law,” said Iowa City Democrat state Rep. Mary Mascher, ranking member of the House State Government Committee. “We definitely know there should be changes made to our current law. ... And I am hopeful that we can get that accomplished this session.”

Mascher and state Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats were finalizing proposed legislation.

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“Obviously, recounts can happen in any election, and we often have special elections in the interim,” Mascher said. “And so it makes sense for us to get something accomplished as soon as we can.”

Mascher said the Democrats’ proposal seeks to provide more time, more assistance and more uniformity in the recount process, by increasing the number of people allowed to conduct recounts in each county and requiring uniform hand recounts.

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in as a new member of Congress last month after state officials certified the election results. Democrat Rita Hart has asked the Democratically controlled U.S. House to investigate and overturn the race that state officials say she lost to Miller-Meeks by six votes following a districtwide recount in all 24 counties.

Hart and her attorneys claim 22 ballots were legally cast but not counted in the results, including those cast by Scott County residents.

They also want the House to examine thousands of ballots marked by machines as undervotes and overvotes that weren’t visually inspected during the recount.

Hart’s campaign argues the recount process was marred by errors, discrepancies and inconsistencies in how ballots were examined from county to county, resulting in thousands of ballots with recorded under and over votes not being examined for voter intent. As a result, lawful votes were likely not counted, her attorney argues.

Iowa law provides broad discretion to recount boards to decide the mechanics of a recount. Some counties did complete hand recounts, some did complete machine recounts, and some did a hybrid version of both.

“The law surrounding Iowa’s election recount process is drafted so poorly that multiple recount boards reading the same statutes arrived at entirely different conclusions as to what they were/were not allowed or required to do as far as the actual mechanics of the recount was concerned,” Wolfe wrote in a Quad-City Times guest column.

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