Ernst campaign requests recount procedures of several counties

Auditors say large public records request may be difficult before election

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joni Ernst campaigns with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and U.S. House 2nd district candida
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joni Ernst campaigns with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and U.S. House 2nd district candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks (left) outside Gilmore Hall on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, October 22, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Two weeks before Iowa’s high-profile U.S. Senate election, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s campaign may be planning for a recount.

Ernst’s campaign filed open records requests this week with at least eight Iowa counties, seeking materials that include training manuals, satellite voting locations, names of precinct ballot counters, recount procedures and any communications sent to her competitor, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley.

“I think they’re gearing up for a recount,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, who received the letter from Ernst’s senior adviser Derek Flowers Tuesday.

Recent polls show Ernst, a Red Oak Republican, and Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, are neck and neck, with Ernst having a slight lead. If the margin of victory is thin or the results uncertain after the Nov. 4 election, a recount may be requested.

A public records request from a political candidate isn’t unusual, but the volume of materials Ernst’s campaign is seeking right before an election isn’t typical, several auditors said. Flowers asks auditors to notify him if they can’t provide the materials within five days — which may be a challenge for some counties.

“It’s going to take some time we don’t have, because the people who would do it are getting ready for the election,” said Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

Iowa Code Section 22 allows public records custodians a “good faith, reasonable delay” in providing records if they’re trying to figure out whether the documents are confidential, but the delay shouldn’t exceed 10 business days.

Weipert said he did not think his office would be able to compile all the requested materials before Nov. 4. His staff are consulting with Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, he said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a letter to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office Oct. 6 seeking election materials that included voting instructions, satellite polling locations, names of ballot counters, recount rules and any materials sent to Braley’s campaign.

NRSC general counsel Megan Soward, who signed the Oct. 6 letter, did not return a phone call Wednesday.

Sarah Reisetter, director of elections for the Iowa Secretary of State, replied to Soward with links to state election training materials and information about satellite polling locations. Reisetter said the state had not received any open records requests from Braley or his sponsors.

As for the names of ballot counters, Reisetter recommended Soward contact all 99 Iowa counties, which may have been what triggered Ernst’s letter to county auditors.

Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said she did not know whether all 99 counties received the request, but she did. Other counties that confirmed receiving the letter were Polk, Clinton, Story, Woodbury and Black Hawk.

Flowers did not return calls Wednesday.

Reached on Wednesday night, a staffer for the Ernst campaign called the request “common procedure.” Ernst was not available to reporters after her evening appearance outside of Gilmore Hall on the University of Iowa campus.

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