Auditors want absentee ballot consistency
Democrat Kayla Koether is fighting to get all the votes counted in Iowa's House District 55 race. At issue are a couple dozen ballots that arrived on time, but without postmarks.
Koether lost a recount to Republican Michael Bergan by nine votes. She then fought to get elections officials in Winneshiek County to count 33 absentee ballots. They had postal barcodes instead of postmarks.
Last week, the U.S. Postal Service found 29 of those ballots were mailed in on time, but Secretary of State Paul Pate says since there was no postmark or something called an "intelligent mail barcode," these votes are not eligible to be counted under Iowa law.
In 2016, Iowa lawmakers approved giving county auditors the option of being able to double check if such ballots were sent on time by using the intelligent barcode system, but only six counties in the state use that barcode system. Winneshiek is not one of them, and neither are Linn and Black Hawk Counties.
In Linn County, the outbound ballots have a barcode on them, but the inbound ballots do not. Auditor Joel Miller said it doesn't take as long for ballots to get to the auditor's office compared to the other counties.
Miller told TV9 121 ballots came in after the postmark deadline. Ballots that arrived on election day are assumed to be mailed in time, even if they don't have a postmark. The auditor said a big part of the problem is an inconsistency with the law.
"Most things in elections are mandatory. We don't have any choice. For uniformity purposes, for fair play, that's probably what we should do...it's mandated to us," he said. "Do it or don't do it, but don't be wishy-washy about it. If the Secretary of State has administrative rule power to do it, he should do it. If he doesn't then better be advocating for a law change."
Meanwhile, Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeders said an out of state company mails the ballots to voters. He says the post office is supposed to make sure all return ballot mail is postmarked. He doesn’t add barcodes because he wants all the work done in-house.
The auditor says he hopes to see to a solution that can be applied to every county.
"It would be preferable to have uniformity in how this is being addressed and applied around the state," Veeders said. "With any luck, we'll arrive at a solution that can be applied uniformly and still gives people a good chance of getting their ballots in and counted."
He said 45 absentee ballots made it back past the deadline in Black Hawk County.
Both county auditors said they are watching to see what happens next in the case.