Government

Iowa House panel to study contested House 55 election

State Rep. Michael Bergan stands outside the West Union Library in Iowa House District 55 where he's served his first term as a representative. (THOMAS NELSON, WATERLOO COURIER)
State Rep. Michael Bergan stands outside the West Union Library in Iowa House District 55 where he's served his first term as a representative. (THOMAS NELSON, WATERLOO COURIER)

The Iowa House speaker plans to appoint a bipartisan panel of legislators to consider a petition from a Democratic candidate who is asking that all ballots cast in her challenge of a northeast Iowa GOP lawmaker be counted.

After a District Court judge declined to decide whether 29 mail-in ballots submitted without the proper postal markings in the House 55 race should be counted, the challenger, Kayla Koether of Decorah, petitioned the House to determine the contest. Koether and Rep. Michael Bergan of Dorchester were separated by just nine votes.

Bergan will be sworn in with 99 other representatives Jan. 14 when the Legislature convenes.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Wednesday that she will ask a committee of lawmakers to answer the questions “whether or not to count ballots that have, you know, that little orange bar code that sometimes comes on your mail.”

Of 33 mail-in ballots that arrived after the Nov. 6 election, postal officials examining bar codes determined that 29 had been mailed in time. However, they arrived at the Winneshiek County Auditor’s Office without the required postmarks — either a postmark to prove it had been mailed in time or an “intelligent” bar code provided by the auditor’s office that allows the ballot to be tracked though the mail.

State law “doesn’t lay it out very clearly” how the House should proceed, Upmeyer said.

“But at the end of the day, if in fact, the young lady does have standing for her case, we will hear it,” Upmeyer said at the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale.

No action will be taken until the Legislature gavels in Monday, she said, adding that she will give the panel as much time as it needs. State law permits the Legislature the authority to take depositions and call witnesses.

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“But the question seems fairly small and unlike something where fraud is alleged or something like that, there’s not a lot of investigation to do with sort of dealing with a set of facts and deciding how you want a want to do that,” Upmeyer said.

After hearing from the committee, Upmeyer said, the House “kind of assembles itself as a committee, a court, I guess, and we make a judgment.”

According to the speaker’s office, the committee will be able to hear arguments from each side, gather necessary information on the contest and issue a report to the full House, which will then for a vote.

The House then will vote to resolve the contest.

Upmeyer’s staff discovered one contested election decades ago wasn’t resolved until May. Although Republicans and Democrats will be appointed to the committee reviewing this latest election challenge, Upmeyer said as Republicans hold a majority of seats in the Iowa House, a majority of the members on the committee will be Republicans.

O.K. Henderson of Radio Iowa contributed to this article.

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

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