ELECTION 2020

Election results may be slower than usual as Iowa officials count, verify

County auditors feeling pressure to count expected record numbers of absentee ballots

(Photo courtesy Kathryn Howe)
(Photo courtesy Kathryn Howe)

Come Nov. 3, Iowans shouldn’t expect to see full election results on the 10 p.m. news.

In fact, with an anticipated deluge of absentee ballots to count and lawyers ready to swoop in with questions in close races, election night might turn into Election Week, some officials said.

“We need to know Iowa’s unofficial results may not be available from every county on election night,” Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said. “We need to get used to that idea.”

Nearly 625,000 Iowans had turned in absentee ballot request forms as of Friday, the Iowa Secretary of State’s office reported.

With nearly a month left before the general election, the total number of absentee ballot requests easily should top the 693,000 requests in 2016.

The Iowa Legislative Council gave county auditors one extra day — Oct. 31 — for the time-consuming process of opening mailed absentee ballots and separating the sealed ballots inside.

“It’s nice to have, but it’s only half the equation,” Miller said.

Iowa county auditors are allowed under the law to start tabulating absentee ballots the day before the election, but not publicly announce the results until the polls close on Election Day.

Linn County had 43,000 absentee ballots in the 2016 general election and already is close to 50,000 submitted absentee ballot request forms for the Nov. 3 election, Miller said. When the county had 34,000 absentee voters in the June primary, it took until 4 p.m. to count votes using two high-speed scanning machines.

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Benton County Auditor Hayley Rippel said she doesn’t think her office will need Oct. 31 for processing absentee ballots, but she has hired two temporary workers to help with the election.

“It’s been busy, busy in here,” she said.

Benton County already has more than 3,900 completed absentee ballot request forms, which likely will translate to more absentee voters than the 4,400 Benton County had in 2016, Rippel said.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said auditors should have preliminary election results on election night.

But “if it’s close, auditors are going to want to double check and triple check to make sure they are giving the public accurate numbers.”

There typically are absentee ballots postmarked the day before the election but received by county auditors after the polls close. A race margin would have to be “razor thin” for those ballots to change the outcome, Pate said.

Still, official election results won’t be known until the canvass Nov. 9.

Recent polls suggest Iowa’s Congressional races are neck and neck and President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were tied at 47 percent in an Iowa Poll released Sept. 22. Trump indicated in late September that if he loses, he won’t leave office if he thinks the election wasn’t fair.

It’s normal for political parties to have lawyers standing by on Election Day to help with reported issues, such as closed poll sites or unusual lines. But there may be even more lawyering up in 2020.

“If you know your guy is going to lose, what are the things you can do to disrupt that?” said Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist who worked on several presidential campaigns, including those of former President Barack Obama.

“One is question the validity of the votes.”

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Trump’s campaign already has successfully sued to invalidate some pre-filled absentee ballot request forms, and Link said he thinks the campaign will try to claim victory on election night before all the absentee ballots have been counted.

But Brent Siegrist, a Council Bluffs Republican and former Iowa House speaker, said he doesn’t believe there will be problems getting accurate results in Iowa. Siegrist is running again this year for the Iowa House, seeking the 16th district seat held by Republican Mary Ann Hanusa, who is retiring.

“By and large, we’ll know the answers by midnight or 1 o’clock,” Siegrist said. “A couple (close races) could flow over to the next day if there are ballots that are postmarked in time but arrive the next day.”

Aaron Britt, spokesman for the Iowa Republican Party, said they are treating the General Election with the “utmost importance.”

“That includes utilizing our robust ground game to get out the vote, deploying poll watchers and resources for those who have questions about voting on Election Day, and having attorneys on standby if anything arises that requires consultation,” Britt said.

“We are confident in county auditors and the secretary of state’s office to uphold the integrity and timeliness of our election process, as Iowa voters have come to expect.”

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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