Democrat wins court fight over absentee ballots

Still unclear if Winneshiek County ballots will be counted.

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 4:18 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Democratic candidate for a northeast Iowa House seat who trails the Republican incumbent by nine votes won a court ruling Monday that gave her the right to determine whether 33 absentee ballots that have not been counted were mailed on time.

Democrat Kayla Koether sued Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines on Thursday after they refused to count the ballots in her race against Republican state Rep. Michael Bergan, saying the envelopes lacked a postmark that would indicate when they were mailed.

Judge Scott Beattie ordered officials to preserve the ballots and determine whether they were mailed on time. But he did not rule on whether the ballots would ultimately be counted, saying that issue could be argued in court later.

State law says absentee ballots must be mailed no later than the day before the election to be counted. For ballots that arrive after Election Day, the law says officials can use either the postmark or an "intelligent mail barcode" to determine whether it was mailed on time.

At issue is what exactly lawmakers meant by an "intelligent mail barcode."

Koether's attorney Shayla McCormally argued in court that Iowa law does not define that phrase. Koether says the ballots in question have a postal bar code that might show when they were mailed.

But Pate and Steines argue that an "intelligent mail barcode" is a code that a county election official would place on the envelope. Only six of Iowa's 99 counties use such a bar code to track absentee ballots.

"Absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day and do not contain postmarks, nor a county-specific Intelligent Mail Barcode, are not eligible to be counted," Pate said.

That may be shocking news to the more than 547,000 Iowans who voted absentee, a record number for the state in an election with the highest ever turnout in a midterm election of 1.3 million voters. Iowa officials acknowledge that the Postal Service does not put postmarks on all ballots, but it's not clear how many ballots statewide might not have been counted because they lacked postmarks. A spokesman for Pate said the office does not know.

Beattie's order requires Steines to work with the Postal Service to determine whether the postal bar codes contain the date ballots were placed in the mail and if so, the information must be provided to the court and attorneys by Friday. Beattie's order said it can be argued in court later whether the postal bar code is appropriate to be used to determine the validity of the votes.

"Failure to read the barcodes could result in ballots that were validly cast being ignored," he said.

Bergan leads Koether by nine votes out of 14,000 cast in the northeast Iowa district that includes Clayton, Fayette and Winneshiek counties.

Bergan said he hadn't seen the judge's ruling and had no immediate comment.

Koether said the judge's ruling "is good news for the 33 Iowans who cast their ballots in good faith and deserve to have their votes counted."

Democrats picked up five House seats in the November election to narrow Republican control 53 to 46 excluding the District 55 seat.

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Stearns234519
Dakota228690
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Olmsted110115
Washington106940
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Lake60
Traverse50
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 30975

Reported Deaths: 720
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6464179
Woodbury321544
Black Hawk225258
Buena Vista171111
Johnson12648
Dallas126329
Linn126282
Marshall104319
Scott77810
Story7623
Pottawattamie72111
Wapello70630
Dubuque68322
Crawford6772
Muscatine62944
Sioux4630
Tama46229
Wright3801
Louisa36013
Jasper32317
Plymouth3165
Warren2731
Dickinson2642
Washington2369
Webster2132
Hamilton1871
Cerro Gordo1561
Boone1481
Clay1330
Clarke1312
Allamakee1284
Mahaska11517
Shelby1140
Clinton1071
Poweshiek1048
Carroll961
Pocahontas941
Bremer926
Franklin890
Des Moines882
Henry863
Emmet850
Cedar821
Taylor790
Monona760
Cherokee751
Floyd722
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Marion700
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Benton651
Sac630
Jefferson590
Osceola590
Jones560
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Butler532
Harrison530
Lee532
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Iowa510
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Monroe506
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