Only six Iowa counties track absentee ballots in mail system

Published: Dec. 3, 2018 at 5:28 PM CST
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A barcode could flip the race in Iowa House district 55. A recount showed Incumbent Michael Bergan beat Democrat Kayla Koether by just 9 votes in the race covering Winneshiek, Fayette and Clayton counties.

A judge ordered on Monday the WInneshiek County Auditor work with the U.S. Postal Service to determine whether 33 uncounted absentee ballots should be counted. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and WInneshiek County Auditor Benjamin Steines are defendants in the lawsuit filed by Koether.

By law, any ballot postmarked, meaning put in the mail by election day should count, however, 33 ballots arrived in Winneshiek County without a postmark but a postal barcode instead.

The judge ordered the county auditor to determine if that barcode can confirm the 33 ballots were mailed in time. Koether's attorneys believe the barcode is a new Intelligent Mail Barcode, something the Post Office now uses instead of postmarks in many cases to track mail.

I9 has learned several counties are already partnering with the U.S. Postal Service to use barcodes to help track absentee ballots. Jones County is one of those using it to track each ballot it mails out.

Only six counties across the state use this system. Those counties are Benton, Cerro Gordo, Clinton, Dubuque, Jones, and Woodbury.

Each absentee ballot is also given a corresponding individual tracking number. Jones County's Auditor tells I9 with the information provided thanks to the system, she is able to simply go online and get a report that shows where the ballot has been in the postal service.

"It is quite a process to get set up," said Jones County Auditor Janine Sulzner. "You do have to pay a printer extra to do this so not every county does it."

Other challenges associated with setting up the ballot tracking system Sulzner says includes that it takes time and office resources. Sulnzer says the process took them "weeks."

It is because of the "difficulty" of getting the barcodes why Johnson County's auditor tells I9 they have not set up a system like the one used in Jones.

Linn County's auditor says they have a vendor that uses barcoding on absentee ballots that are mailed out but they are not used for those sent back in.