I promised interested parties that I would take a minute to share my thoughts regarding the Iowa House 55 contested ballots as a county auditor. For those who do not know, District 55 received twenty-nine absentee ballots after election night that lacked the required U.S. Postmark. Why would we even consider counting votes without the required postmark? This is where things get interesting.
Iowa code 53.17 states, “In order for the ballot to be counted, the return envelope must be received in the commissioner’s office before the polls close on Election Day or be clearly postmarked by an officially authorized postal service or bear an intelligent mail bar code traceable to a date of entry into the federal mail system not later than the day before the election and received by the commissioner not later than noon on the Monday following the election.” Since Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines does not use Intelligent Mail Bar code (IMB) and instead relies on the traditional postmark, as I do in Johnson County, we could assume the ballots should not be counted, correct? One small problem here, the U.S. Post Office placed a tracking code on the ballots but did not use the traditional postmark or IMB detailed in the Iowa code.
The question is whether the tracking code placed on the ballots constitutes a U.S. Postmark. Iowa code states that the IMB code, which is different from the mailing code placed by the U.S. postal service, should be placed on the ballot by the auditor and traceable in the U.S. Postal System. Even though not a traditional postmark, the traceable code placed on the envelope by the Post Office clearly shows the ballots in U.S. Postal System before deadline, so why wouldn’t the ballots count?
Iowa law states the decisions rests with The Iowa House of Representatives. The Iowa House formed a committee, a committee of three republicans and two democrats who elected not to hear expert testimony, including testimony from the registered voters whose ballots were excluded, and moved the decision to the full chamber. After a lengthy debate in the Iowa House, with no input from the citizens whose votes were excluded or relevant voter law or postal service experts, and no comment from the winner of the election in question on whether those ballots should be counted, the decision was made along party lines to exclude the twenty-nine ballots.
In my opinion, your vote is often your loudest voice. Unfortunately, twenty-nine Iowa citizens who were legally registered to vote were disenfranchised when the rules were clearly followed. The American Postal Union of Des Moines posted the following statement on Facebook January 29:
“These 29 people (in District 55) followed the law, properly mailed their ballots. The USPS received the ballots, processed the ballots and printed a bar code on them, identifying when they were accepted into the USPS mail processing system. Now a handful of state representatives are making a mockery of the USPS process by blaming the USPS for not placing a ‘postmark’ on the ballots. The USPS does not have to put a postmark on mail. The USPS is business and it evolves, names change in processes and procedures. These 29 people should not be denying their right to vote, because a handful of elected officials want to play games with semantics.”
It is my view as a highly trained election official that these twenty-nine ballots legally cast from registered Iowans were unjustly ignored. Their voice was silenced. It’s my hope the Iowa Legislature will clarify the law so no Iowan sees a legally cast ballot go uncounted.
• Travis Weipert is the Democratic county auditor in Johnson County.