Government

The Closest of Margins: Iowa House 55 race teeters on 8 votes

Officials say absentee ballots still coming

State Rep. Michael Bergan finds his seat Jan. 9, 2017, on the first day of the legislative session in the House chambers at the Capitol in Des Moines. (Scott Morgan/Freelance)
State Rep. Michael Bergan finds his seat Jan. 9, 2017, on the first day of the legislative session in the House chambers at the Capitol in Des Moines. (Scott Morgan/Freelance)

While most candidates in Tuesday’s elections went to bed knowing if they won or lost, just eight votes separate the hopefuls in a Northeast Iowa legislative race.

And seven of those were write-ins.

In Iowa House District 55, incumbent Republican Michael Bergan is leading Democrat challenger Kayla Koether, according to preliminary results from the Iowa Secretary of State.

Bergan got 6,902 votes to Koether’s 6,894 in the district, which spans Clayton, Fayette and Winneshiek counties.

“I would say nobody should be assuming the results are final yet,” Winneshiek County Auditor Benjamin Steines said Wednesday.

Steines and Clayton County Auditor Jennifer Garms said results could shift in either direction as absentee ballots continue to trickle into the three county auditor’s offices in the next few days. As long as they are valid and postmarked by Nov. 5, absentees will be counted, she said.

Garms said she believes there are more than 200 outstanding absentee ballots.

Steines said he expects to know more by Friday on how absentees affect the outcome. The official canvass of votes is Tuesday, he said. At that point, candidates have three days to request a recount — something Steines said is likely.

Bergan, who is finishing out his first term, said patience is key with such a close race.

“It’s just a matter of waiting it out, making sure the ballots submitted are counted,” he said. “I have trust and confidence in our election system. They’ll go through a postelection audit and finalize the results for the canvass. ... Once we get to that point it’s a matter of a recount option, once we get that official count.”

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Voters in District 55 are no stranger to close elections. In 2014, Republican Darrel Branhagen beat Democrat Rick Edwards there by fewer than 30 votes.

Earlier this year, Decorah residents voted whether to pursue having a municipal electric utility in their community. The measure failed by two votes.

“It’s not a real surprise that we have a close election,” Bergan said.

According to Secretary of State data, Bergan, of Dorchester, brought in 50.7 percent of votes in Clayton County and 57.5 percent of votes in Fayette County. Koether, from Decorah, received 53.5 percent of Winneshiek County votes, compared with 46.6 percent for Bergan.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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