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County auditors proposes reforms to recounts after contested race in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:41 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa State Association of County Auditors gave a list of recommendations to lawmakers on reforming the state’s rules regarding recounts.

The first recommendation, which comes from a bipartisan group of auditors, is to stop different counties from recounting ballots in different ways. This is a fix to a problem seen in the recount of Iowa’s Second Congressional District, which was decided by six votes.

Under current law, auditors have 18 days to recount their ballots regardless of the number of votes it has to recount. The deadline and the number of votes were one reason some counties decided to recount ballots by machine rather than by hand. Some counties recounted their ballots using a mix of both methods.

But, the use of multiple methods meant the standard of what makes a counted ballot for a candidate is different by county.

Eric Van Lancker (D), who was the chair of the bipartisan group and the Clinton County Auditor, said machines and people count a choice on a ballot in a different way.

“When you send them through the machine, the machine has its standards for reading those ballots,” he said. “But when you hand count those ballots, there’s a different standard to how you count those ballots.”

Van Lancker said that different standard comes from voter intent, which a recount by hand could determine. He explained voter intent through an example of an overvote, which is when somebody votes for more candidates than they can vote for on a ballot.

“The machine is simply going to read that as an overvote and no vote is counted,” Van Lanker said. “But when you hand count, that folks who are hand counting, that recount board hand-counting, can say ‘Oh no, this person clearly crossed off this candidate and shaded in for this candidate so it’s clearly a vote for this candidate.’”

Because different counties use different methods a uniform approach for counting ballots wasn’t performed.

The rest of their recommendations include having the Chief Judge of the Judicial District in a county appoint the neutral member of a recount board, give larger counties the ability to have more people to recount votes, and require a payment for the administration of a requested recount.

TV9 asked Iowa’s Secretary of State Paul Pate, who is a Republican, about his opinions on the recommendations. A spokesperson for his office didn’t respond to our questions and said it will address it after Rita Hart’s (D) challenge in the U.S House of Representatives over her loss to Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) is complete.

The recommendations were sent to multiple members in the state legislature on both sides of the aisle, according to Van Lanker. One of those was State Representative Bobby Kaufmann who told TV9 he’s also waiting for the challenge in the house to be over to move forward with the bill.

He said in an email that he won’t confine himself to those recommendations.

“I am not going to change the laws regarding a federal pending decision,” he said. “No matter the outcome I intend to run legislation. I will strongly consider their recommendations but certainly not confine myself to them.

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