ELECTION 2020

County auditors, lawmaker call for changes to Iowa recount law

Rita Hart (left) answers a question during an Oct. 28 debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F.
Rita Hart (left) answers a question during an Oct. 28 debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Iowa needs to change its recount process to provide more time, more assistance and more uniformity following discrepancies and confusion that beset Iowa’s incredibly tight Iowa 2nd Congressional District race, according to county auditors and an Eastern Iowa lawmaker.

“A uniform process needs to be addressed,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said, echoing opinions shared by county auditors in Scott and Clinton counties. “I don’t know what that process should be. We had multiple different recounts used in multiple different ways.”

Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa was declared congresswoman-elect after state officials last week officially certified the election results.

Miller-Meeks edged Democratic former state Sen. Rita Hart of Wheatland by just six votes out of more than 400,000 cast, following a districtwide recount in all 24 counties, for a margin of just 0.000014 percent.

Miller-Meeks on Wednesday received her certificate of election from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

Hart’s campaign on Dec. 2 announced plans to challenge the outcome and file a petition with the U.S. House Committee on Administration asking for a full review of all ballots cast in the race.

The Hart campaign has argued a thorough recount of all ballots was hampered by glitches in multiple counties in the initial count of ballots after the election, along with inconsistent recount processes.

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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, including Johnson and Scott counties, did a hybrid version of both.

Hart’s campaign argues the partial hand recount was rife with errors and left thousands of votes unexamined.

Jasper County conducted at least two partial machine recounts that came up with different results. In Scott County, the recount board tallied 131 more absentee ballots than the Scott County Auditor’s postelection canvass.

Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said Iowa Code prevents her from conducting an administrative machine count to verify the discrepancy. State law, too, states recount boards may consider only ballots considered on election night, even if the board is made aware of legally cast ballots excluded from the initial count.

In Scott County, Moritz said 35 ballots from military members and other Iowans living overseas were not counted due to a scanning error when voters submitted their ballots to the auditor’s office that lopped off the 2nd District race.

State Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, who served as the Hart campaign’s representative on the Clinton County recount board, said she intends to consult county auditors and state lawmakers from both parties across the district to discuss problems that arose during the recount for the purpose of authoring bipartisan legislation this coming session to revamp the process.

“It’s clear that consistency throughout all of the counties that are involved in the recount is needed,” Wolfe said. “The issue is what that consistent process looks like ... to ensure all valid votes are counted.

“And we can’t be sure that that happened in this recount, because of a combination of a lot of different issues and thousands of undervotes that weren’t examined. Those voters deserve to have their vote counted.”

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