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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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 609810

Reported Deaths: 7746
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1263481799
Ramsey53049910
Dakota47251475
Anoka43239465
Washington27676296
Stearns22670227
St. Louis18260319
Scott17701139
Wright16528153
Olmsted13517103
Sherburne1213096
Carver1074649
Clay829692
Rice8252111
Blue Earth770744
Crow Wing688599
Kandiyohi670085
Chisago627054
Otter Tail590687
Benton585398
Goodhue485674
Douglas478481
Mower477633
Winona463752
Itasca462768
Isanti446066
McLeod434361
Morrison427962
Beltrami410263
Nobles410050
Steele400819
Polk390872
Becker389357
Lyon365254
Carlton356958
Freeborn351134
Pine337623
Nicollet334245
Mille Lacs314956
Brown308840
Le Sueur299727
Cass288233
Todd288233
Meeker266044
Waseca240823
Martin237033
Roseau212421
Wabasha20843
Hubbard198041
Dodge18973
Renville183446
Redwood178141
Houston175516
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165023
Fillmore159210
Faribault156920
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec147828
Sibley147310
Aitkin139237
Watonwan13619
Rock129019
Jackson123112
Pipestone117126
Yellow Medicine115320
Pope11396
Swift107518
Murray107410
Koochiching96819
Stevens92611
Clearwater89217
Marshall88817
Lake84520
Wilkin83813
Lac qui Parle76122
Big Stone6094
Grant5958
Lincoln5863
Mahnomen5669
Norman5509
Kittson49122
Unassigned48293
Red Lake4037
Traverse3825
Lake of the Woods3484
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 374664

Reported Deaths: 6109
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58891646
Linn21448342
Scott20426250
Black Hawk16680319
Woodbury15319230
Johnson1473686
Dubuque13595213
Dallas1144099
Pottawattamie11307177
Story1082848
Warren592092
Clinton564393
Cerro Gordo562297
Webster538996
Sioux519174
Muscatine4920106
Marshall491479
Des Moines478275
Jasper452073
Wapello4366123
Buena Vista431040
Plymouth404982
Lee392658
Marion369177
Jones301257
Henry301037
Bremer292763
Carroll286252
Boone271234
Crawford270841
Benton262755
Washington259851
Dickinson250745
Mahaska232551
Jackson225842
Kossuth219166
Clay217327
Tama213372
Delaware211743
Winneshiek200636
Buchanan196734
Page195422
Cedar192923
Hardin191144
Wright189140
Fayette188243
Hamilton186851
Harrison181973
Clayton173057
Butler167835
Madison167719
Floyd164642
Mills163824
Cherokee161538
Lyon160941
Poweshiek159036
Allamakee155552
Hancock153134
Iowa148324
Winnebago145731
Calhoun143113
Cass140855
Grundy139333
Emmet136741
Jefferson134535
Sac132620
Shelby131838
Louisa130249
Union129535
Appanoose128049
Franklin127823
Mitchell127243
Chickasaw125717
Guthrie124532
Humboldt124526
Palo Alto114924
Montgomery106738
Howard105322
Clarke102424
Monroe100633
Keokuk99932
Ida92735
Adair89632
Davis86825
Pocahontas86822
Monona85931
Greene79111
Osceola79017
Lucas77423
Worth7568
Taylor67112
Decatur6629
Fremont64810
Ringgold56824
Van Buren56718
Wayne56323
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Adams3494
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