DES MOINES, Iowa — Lawmakers on a Republican-led panel Thursday decided that 29 ballots in a contested Iowa House race shouldn't be opened or counted because they say it would be a violation of election law.
The special committee was assembled after Kayla Koether, Democratic candidate for in House District 55 in Northeast Iowa, formally contested the results of the election decided by just 9 votes. She argued 29 absentee ballots were wrongfully rejected and should be counted and that the race results should be re-certified. Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, was declared the winner in that race.
Thursday Republicans on the panel released a one-page report concluding that there is "no legal authority to open and count the 29 ballots and thus no right to recanvass or recertify the election" because the ballots did not have a specific mail bar code outlined in Iowa law, though the U.S. Postal Service confirmed the ballots were sent by mail before the election. This comes after two other meetings for the special Election Contest Committee, where lawyers for both sides disputed the facts of the case.
That report now moves to the full House for a vote, which could come as early as next week.
"I went into this with an open mind and I can tell you my conclusion would’ve been the same even if it was the Republican who was down by nine votes," said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, told reporters Wednesday.
The decision not to count the 29 ballots or hold another meeting calling forth witnesses drew the ire of Democrats on the committee, who called the process "a total sham."
"The reality is we should err on the side of democracy and count those ballots. Those voters deserve to have those ballots counted," said Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines.
Meyer and Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, argued in their minority report that by not counting the ballots, House Republicans are failing to honor Iowans' Constitutional right to vote. They also argue it ignores equal protection and due process rights of those voters whose ballots are in dispute.
They contend that these Constitutional protections supersede any part of Iowa code that defines specific postmarks and mail barcodes required to determine if an absentee ballot was received before Election Day.
Koether was at the Thursday meeting, telling reporters afterwards that she is disappointed with the process.
"I expected this process to be conducted in good faith," Koether said. "So not to hear witnesses, to not hear from the people who were directly impact by this, I think it's a really disservice to this process and will leave voters in my district questioning the outcome of this process."
She said she would consider appeal the decision to a court.
Bergan, whom Koether challenged in the 2018 election and was certified the winner, denied to comment, citing conflicts of interest and possible House ethics violations.