IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa Legislature likely to take on election recount inconsistencies after close U.S. House race

The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (And
The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

A still-unresolved U.S. House race in Iowa has prompted election officials to call for legislative action to address the procedures for recounts.

Nine weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the outcome of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District is in the hands of the Democratic-controlled U.S. House.

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks had a 282-vote lead in the 24-county southeast Iowa district on election night. That narrowed to 47 votes after late-arriving mail-in absentee and provisional ballots were counted, and precinct reporting errors were corrected.

Iowa election officials on Nov. 30 certified her the winner by just six votes. That prompted Democrat Rita Hart to challenge the outcome, filing a petition asking the U.S. House for a review of all ballots cast in the race. Miller-Meeks has been seated provisionally while the fate of the contest is decided, but the U.S. House could reverse that.

County auditors, campaigns and others have raised concerns about the vote recount process not being consistent from one county to another. In some counties, complete hand recounts were conducted in the race. Other counties did machine recounts and some, including Johnson and Scott counties, used a hybrid version.

Iowa House State Government Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, doesn’t have a solution — yet. However, leaving the outcome of an Iowa election in the hands of the U.S. House is unacceptable to him.

“We want this to be decided in Iowa, not by Washington, D.C.,” he said.

The GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature made election changes in the past two years that “have been proven to be fruitful, but also lawful,” Kaufmann said.

It’s likely lawmakers will revisit proposals from the 2020 elections bill that were jettisoned in the final days of the June session. They were part of a sweeping proposal by Iowa Senate State Government Committee Chairman Roby Smith, R-Davenport.

Smith declined to discuss what, if any, changes he might bring back this year to the Legislature because he says the media misrepresented both his intent and the content of the bill.

Among his provisions, the bill would have required absentee votes to be turned in by Election Day — not just postmarked beforehand — and changed the time polls close in Iowa from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Critics said it would have made it harder for students and rural voters by outlawing early voting satellite locations in any state-owned buildings, which include college campuses.

Kaufmann said he wants to address the actions a few “rogue auditors” in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties who mailed absentee ballots request forms — not the actual ballots — to all registered voters that included some personal information. The Donald Trump presidential campaign won Iowa district court injunctions to invalidate those forms, causing auditors to mail out the forms again but without some information pre-filled in.

“I don’t care if you don’t like a law passed by a Democratic legislature, I don’t care if you don’t like a law that got passed by a Republican legislature. County auditors do not have the right to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow,’ Kaufmann said.

Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, who oversees elections, expects to make recommendations for legislative changes later this month, he said.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with how Iowa’s elections were conducted in 2020. Iowans made their voices heard in record numbers in both the primary and general elections, despite the pandemic,” Pate said.

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He has proposed a pilot program to establish procedures for voters with a disability who cannot mark a ballot by hand to use assistive technology to complete an absentee ballot.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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