By Tom Barton, Quad-City Times, and Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
NEWTON — More than 19,000 ballots will be recounted, including nearly 600 by hand in one precinct, in Iowa’s still-too-close-to-call 2nd Congressional District election after local officials discovered an error in the reporting of Tuesday’s results.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate ordered the recounts Friday after Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott notified the state of a “human error” that resulted in an inaccurate count of 591 Election Day ballots cast at a single precinct, in Mingo in central Iowa.
The state already has adjusted the votes in its unofficial count, and the update changed the leader in the 2nd District: Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks had been ahead by 282 votes, but after the adjustment due to the Jasper County error, Democrat Rita Hart now leads by 162 votes.
As of Friday afternoon, in the newly adjusted results, Hart had 196,603 votes and Miller-Meeks 196,441 — a margin of 0.04 percent.
Those results remain unofficial, and could still change, with the pending recounts and the potential addition of absentee ballots that were postmarked before Election Day but have not yet been received by county auditors.
The Associated Press has not called the race in the district, which covers southern Iowa and Johnson County.
The state will certify the election results next week, and depending on how close the 2nd District results remain, either campaign could request another recount.
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“I’m asking for an audit and a recount, and we’ll wait and see what those show. That’s all a part of this process,” Pate said Friday during a news conference at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton.
Parrott said the reporting error was made when transferring vote totals to a spreadsheet. He said it was a purely human error and not the result of faulty equipment or malicious political intent.
He said his office noticed the error Thursday and notified the Secretary of State’s office.
Even though the error was confined to one precinct in Mingo, Pate has requested a recount for the entire county, and Parrott and the county’s Board of Supervisors has agreed.
“I’m interested in getting this right for Jasper County,” Parrott said.
Parrott and Pate both credited the checks and balances built into the system for their ability to catch the error and fix it before the results became official.
But the Miller-Meeks campaign issued a statement later Friday raising concerns with the process.
“We do not agree with the Jasper County auditor and the Secretary of State’s Office that there has been sufficient transparency concerning the machine irregularities and the auditor’s own claims that human error in the tabulation process arose after results were reported,” a statement from the Miller-Meeks campaign said.
“We have demanded additional information because those unexplained discrepancies have the potential to alter the election outcome. We expect to receive that information immediately.”
Hart’s campaign said it supports the actions of the secretary of state and Jasper County auditor to “ensure all results are accurate.”
“As we have said consistently, Iowans’ voices must be heard and their votes accurately counted.” Hart campaign manager Zack Meunier said in a statement. “It is thus critical that county auditors ensure all results are accurate. ... We are confident by the end of this process that Rita Hart will be the next congresswoman from Iowa’s Second District.”
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At the Mingo precinct where the error occurred, in the newly adjusted but still unofficial results as of Friday afternoon, Miller-Meeks had 620 votes and Hart 380.
Election night results are always unofficial. The numbers are not finalized until after counties conduct postelection audits and canvasses, and the numbers are certified on a statewide basis at the end of November.
The hand-count audit of the Mingo precinct and countywide administrative recount will begin immediately and be completed ahead of the Jasper County canvass of votes Tuesday afternoon, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
County election boards will convene Monday and Tuesday for the official canvass of votes in each county. Campaigns then have until 5 p.m. Nov. 13 to request a recount.
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