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Forty-Two Late Mail-In Ballots Not Used in Election Tally

Due to a mail error, ballots that were postmarked prior to election day arrived the day after an Iowa county primary and were not counted in the final tally due to the state’s new law. The county supervisor race was determined by seven votes.

(TNS) — Just seven votes determined the winner of a June 7 primary election for Clinton County, Iowa, supervisors.

Two days later, 50 ballots arrived at the county auditor's office, 35 of which were postmarked May 27. Almost all were postmarked before election day, which means the votes would've counted before 2021 changes in election laws.

That high number surprised Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker and his staff.

"It's unusual that that many would come in like that after election day," Van Lancker said.

So he called the post office, and he said a manager told him there was a mail bag that mistakenly cycled through a mail-processing facility more than once, causing the delay.

He said in total there were 23 Republican ballots that arrived after polls closed and weren't counted.

Incumbent Supervisor Dan Srp got 1,351 votes, outlasting Sheriff Deputy Steve Cundiff, who had 1,344 votes, according to unofficial tallies. No Democrats ran for county supervisors, all but guaranteeing the two spots to the winners of the three-way primary. Jim Irwin, Jr., got the top spot, garnering 1,467 votes.

"Even though these ballots came late in due to a human error, which happens, if we would've been able to use bar code information and postmarks, we would've been able to count all 50 ballots," Van Lancker said. "We'll never know how those ballots were voted, but we had a race that was determined by seven votes."

Mail-in ballots now must arrive before polls close on election day, part of changes to absentee and early voting lawmakers approved during the 2021 legislative session. Previously, the law allowed auditors to count mail-in ballots that were postmarked ahead of election day as long as they arrived by noon the following Monday.

Cundiff said the narrow race and the new law that doesn't allow absentee ballots to be counted put his campaign in a "tough spot," but that the "rules are the rules, and they can't count them."

He said he doesn't plan to request a recount, but when asked if he thinks the Legislature should revert back to its pre-2021 election laws on absentee ballots counting if they're postmarked before election day, he said:

"I think the ones that are postmarked before the election should be counted. That's not fair to the voter. That's not the fault of the voter that the vote was held up in the post office box. If they're mailed in time in good faith, they should be counted."

"Just since it was such a close election, I feel like: did the postal service decide this election or did the people?" Cundiff added. "I don't want to get into whining, but that's something that bothers me."

In Scott County, the auditor's office had to reject much fewer ballots. Eleven ballots arrived on June 8 and 9, said Scott County Auditor Kerri Tompkins. She said she didn't know how many, if any, were postmarked ahead of election day. In total, 2,198 Scott County residents voted absentee in the election, Tompkins said.

In total for Clinton County, Van Lancker said there were 53 total rejected ballots that came in after election day. Eleven of them weren't postmarked ahead of election day. Of the 42 that were postmarked before June 7, Democrats accounted for 19 and Republicans accounted for 23.

Each voter got a notice in the mail explaining that their ballot was rejected, he said.

For Van Lancker, he said, this underscores that voters who want to vote absentee in future elections need to allow lots of extra time to mail their ballots if they have to vote by mail. Voters can also drop off their absentee ballot at the auditor's office or vote absentee in-person to make sure their votes arrive on time.

"This is an extreme example," Van Lancker said. "But it still accentuates the point that our voters need to know the new rules."

(c)2022 Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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