Disenfranchised Winneshiek County voters will never have their day in court

Envelopes containing 29 absentee ballots that Winneshiek County voters mailed on time will likely remain sealed forever. Time has run out for Democratic candidate Kayla Koether to sue over how Iowa House Republicans handled her contest of the 2018 election result in House district 55.

It is also too late for any disenfranchised voter to challenge a process that placed an administrative rule about mail barcodes above the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by Article II of Iowa’s constitution.

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Lawmakers should act on absentee ballots, mail barcodes

Bev Clark calls for action to prevent a 2020 repeat of the scenario that played out in Iowa House district 55. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa legislature must clarify the law that determines the timeliness of absentee ballots. Some 41 percent of Iowans who participated in the 2018 election voted early, according to the Secretary of State’s certified results. That’s 547,205 ballots!

Those are the known, counted absentee ballots. Some of them may not have complied with the postmark requirement, but were counted anyway. In the very tight election for Iowa House district 55, where only nine votes separated the candidates, Winneshiek County rejected 29 late-arriving absentee ballots without a postmark. But those ballots did have an intelligent mail barcode, proving they entered the postal service before election day. The dispute centered on what kind of mail barcode.

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When being fair isn't an Iowa value

Bruce Lear: Lately, I am struck with how Iowa values are eroding before our eyes. -promoted by Laura Belin

Three college guys decided to head to my hometown of Shellsburg, Iowa for a weekend. We threw three bags of dirty laundry in the trunk for my unsuspecting Mom, and we left Pella in Carl’s very used Toyota. In 1977, Toyotas in Iowa were about as rare as a Democrat in Pella. There were some, but they were hard to spot.

Things went fine, until it died. It was not a prolonged death with symptoms. It was sudden. We were three guys with a dead car on a county road outside of Kellogg, Iowa. We knew a lot. After all, we were sophomores in college. Unfortunately, our sophomore smarts didn’t extend to fixing dead Toyotas.

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Three things I learned watching Iowa House Republicans subvert democracy

The first Iowa House floor votes of 2019 are in the books, and they played out exactly as you’d expect. On two straight party-line votes, 53 Republicans rejected a Democratic effort to allow legally cast absentee ballots to be counted, then dismissed Kayla Koether’s contest of the House district 55 election result.

The chamber’s January 28 debate was enlightening. If you have a few hours to spare, I recommend watching the videos of the afternoon and evening sessions on the legislative website.

My takeaways:

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Iowa House Republicans are making a mistake

Every Iowa House Republican will likely vote on January 28 to dismiss Democrat Kayla Koether’s contest of the House district 55 election. She trails State Representative Michael Bergan by nine votes according to certified results, but 29 absentee ballots that voters in Winneshiek County mailed on time remain uncounted.

Although Republicans on a special House election contest committee insist “there exists no legal authority to open and count the twenty-nine ballots in question,” they are wrong about the law. Dismissing the contest without allowing Koether to call witnesses, take depositions, or have the ballots opened will open the door to judicial review.

It’s also terrible politics.

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The ominous footnote in judge's ruling on contested Iowa House race

Democratic candidate Kayla Koether filed notice late last week that she is contesting the Iowa House district 55 election. According to the certified result following a recount, Republican State Representative Michael Bergan received 6,924 votes to 6,915 for Koether. However, 29 absentee ballots from Winneshiek County were never tallied, even though the U.S. Postal Service confirmed that they were mailed on or before the legal deadline.

Koether had hoped Polk County District Court Judge Scott Beattie would order the disputed ballots to be opened and counted. But on December 20 he dismissed her lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, saying the state constitution and Iowa Code give the legislative branch–not the courts–power to rule on contests of elections for state House or Senate seats.

A few thoughts on what should happen next, what will happen instead, and what might have happened if Democrats had pursued a different legal strategy.

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