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Absentee Ballot Mail Issues Mean Some Votes Don't Count

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa - Some votes slipped through the cracks for the school board election.

Area auditors said it's because of an issue with how absentee ballots are processed when they're sent through the mail. By state law, the ballots had to be postmarked by Monday, Sept. 9 in order to count toward election totals.

Auditors said some ballots aren't getting that postmark stamp. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. This really only becomes a problem after the election is over. Some ballots are still counted for a few days after Election Day as long as they have that Monday postmark.

Johnson County had their hands full with a busy school election on Tuesday. One day after, however, Auditor Travis Weipert said the absentee ballots are still coming in, but some can't be counted.

"Well, we had seven today (Wednesday) that showed up with no postmarks. Just looking at them, we assume they were technically mailed in time but unfortunately they don't count because they weren't postmarked," Weipert said.

Weipert said the Post Office doesn't always postmark the envelopes.

"We'll be mailing those voters a letter telling them that we received their ballot, but it didn't count," Weipert said.

The Johnson County Auditor isn't alone. Linn County Auditor Joel Miller says about 10 percent of the absentee ballots did not have a postmark, but all of them did count in Linn County because they were received on or before Election Day. In a close election, every vote counts.

"You would always wonder did the person win if we would have counted those. Or did they lose if we would have counted those. You know, we don't want any of those questions. Our job as auditors are to count the votes and to count all of the votes, and we don't like seeing someone disenfranchised for that," Miller said.

Miller says the issue started after a court case a couple of years ago that said only the postmark could be used to determine if an absentee ballot could be counted in an election. Now, auditors across Iowa are working towards making changes before it become a bigger problem. Most are pushing for some kind of a deadline at the end of Election Day.

"If you would just say that the election ends at 8 pm on Election Day or 9 pm on Election Day, based on that particular election then there's a finality to it," Miller said. "You know you have to have that ballot in, no excuses. It's done, and we are not going to accept anything after that."

In the end, that's a decision that will be up to the state legislature.

A spokesman from the United States Postal Service said they are looking into the issue, but weren't sure why it was happening. Many auditors' offices use what's called business reply mail for the absentee ballot returns. The Postal Services said that type of mail typically does not get postmarked.

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