Iowa House to Study Contest Involving Late-Arriving Ballots

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The Iowa House of Representatives will form a committee to study a disputed 2018 election that appears to turn on a few dozen late-arriving but allegedly timely cast mail ballots. The Gazette has more:

The Iowa House speaker plans to appoint a bipartisan panel of legislators to consider a petition from a Democratic candidate who is asking that all ballots cast in her challenge of a northeast Iowa GOP lawmaker be counted.

After a District Court judge declined to decide whether 29 mail-in ballots submitted without the proper postal markings in the House 55 race should be counted, the challenger, Kayla Koether of Decorah, petitioned the House to determine the contest. Koether and Rep. Michael Bergan of Dorchester were separated by just nine votes.

Bergan will be sworn in with 99 other representatives Jan. 14 when the Legislature convenes.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Wednesday that she will ask a committee of lawmakers to answer the questions “whether or not to count ballots that have, you know, that little orange bar code that sometimes comes on your mail.”

Of 33 mail-in ballots that arrived after the Nov. 6 election, postal officials examining bar codes determined that 29 had been mailed in time. However, they arrived at the Winneshiek County Auditor’s Office without the required postmarks — either a postmark to prove it had been mailed in time or an “intelligent” bar code provided by the auditor’s office that allows the ballot to be tracked though the mail.

State law “doesn’t lay it out very clearly” how the House should proceed, Upmeyer said.

The Speaker notes that the process will take time, though given the facts of the case she is hopeful it should avoid some of the fireworks that occasionally accompany disputes like these:

No action will be taken until the Legislature gavels in Monday, she said, adding that she will give the panel as much time as it needs. State law permits the Legislature the authority to take depositions and call witnesses.

“But the question seems fairly small and unlike something where fraud is alleged or something like that, there’s not a lot of investigation to do with sort of dealing with a set of facts and deciding how you want … to do that,” Upmeyer said.

After hearing from the committee, Upmeyer said, the House “kind of assembles itself as a committee, a court, I guess, and we make a judgment.”

According to the speaker’s office, the committee will be able to hear arguments from each side, gather necessary information on the contest and issue a report to the full House, which will then for a vote.

The House then will vote to resolve the contest.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the committee determines that the ballots were indeed timely cast and then – once the ballots are opened and tallied – that Koether is actually the winner. At that point, the GOP-majority House will have to vote on what to do next, including whether or not to unseat Bergan. Until then, the focus on the ballots and postmarks (or lack thereof) – a problem that is neither new nor confined to Iowa – will take center stage.

Bundle up and stay tuned …

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