# Roby Smith



Iowa House race exposes problems with Scott County's ballot count

Fifth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Iowa’s final unresolved race from 2022 wrapped up on December 7 when Republican Luana Stoltenberg was declared the winner in House district 81. She received 5,073 votes (50.05 percent) to 5,062 votes (49.95 percent) for Democrat Craig Cooper. Stoltenberg led by 29 votes on election night in the district, which covers part of Davenport. But the Democrat pulled ahead by six votes once Scott County officials tabulated hundreds of overlooked absentee ballots.

It’s rare for a recount in an Iowa legislative race to alter the vote totals by more than a dozen. It’s even more rare for a recount to produce fewer overall votes for each candidate. Yet as Sarah Watson noted in her story for the Quad-City Times, the three-member recount board’s final “totals showed 31 fewer votes for Cooper and 14 fewer votes for Stoltenberg.”

Cooper conceded the race but expressed “grave concerns” about the inconsistent ballot counts in a December 7 Facebook post.

It’s clear that something went very wrong with the processing of absentee ballots in Iowa’s third largest county. The problems warrant further investigation to prevent anything like this from happening again.

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Did low turnout sink Iowa Democratic candidates?

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Many people have asked why Iowa experienced the red wave that didn’t materialize across most of the country. While no one factor can account for the result, early signs point to turnout problems among groups that favor Democratic candidates.

Although this year’s turnout was the second-highest in absolute numbers for an Iowa midterm, participation was down about 8 percent compared to the 2018 general election. The number of Iowans who cast ballots this year (1,230,416) was closer to the 2014 level (1,142,311) than to the high-water mark of 1,334,279, reached four years ago.

My impression is that the decline in turnout was not evenly distributed, but was more pronounced among registered Democrats than among Republicans, who have long been more reliable midterm voters in Iowa.

That alone could account for the narrow defeats of U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (who lost to Zach Nunn in the third Congressional district by 2,145 votes, a margin of 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent), Attorney General Tom Miller (lost to Brenna Bird by 20,542 votes, 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent), and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald (lost to Roby Smith by 30,922 votes, or 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent).

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Iowa GOP establishment abandons state auditor candidate

When Governor Kim Reynolds made news in May by pleading with supporters to help her get her “own” attorney general and a state auditor who wouldn’t scrutinize her actions, Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann defended the appeal. In a written statement, Kaufmann said the governor “should be promoting Republican candidates up and down the ticket,” because “Iowans know how worthless our current state auditor, state treasurer and attorney general have been.”

But since Mary Ann Hanusa (the insiders’ pick for state auditor) unexpectedly lost the GOP primary in June, top Iowa Republicans have done virtually nothing to support the party’s nominee Todd Halbur. He goes into the home stretch of the campaign with little money or media exposure. Meanwhile, the incumbent Rob Sand is on track to spend more than a million dollars on various forms of advertising.

Halbur did not respond to phone or email messages seeking comment on the lack of support from his party, and whether it’s related to the whistleblower lawsuit he filed, naming one of Reynolds’ appointees.

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Iowa GOP candidates love state fair, shun DM Register Soapbox

Politicians love spending time at the Iowa State Fair, and many candidates for state and federal offices made multiple visits this year. But in a break with a long-running practice, Republicans seeking statewide and federal offices mostly shunned the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox.

Just three of the eleven GOP candidates invited to the Soapbox were willing to devote 20 minutes of their state fair visit to a public speech outlining their agenda. Every elected Republican official steered clear.

Avoiding the Register’s platform is another sign of growing Republican hostility toward traditional Iowa media. Other recent examples: some GOP candidates refused to meet with high-profile editorial boards in 2018 and 2020, and Iowa Senate leaders abandoned more than a century of tradition to kick reporters off the chamber’s press bench this year.

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Exclusive: New Iowa absentee rules disenfranchised hundreds in 2022 primary

New restrictions on absentee voting prevented hundreds of Iowans from having their ballots counted in the June 7 primary election, Bleeding Heartland’s review of data from county auditors shows.

About 150 ballots that would have been valid under previous Iowa law were not counted due to a bill Republican legislators and Governor Kim Reynolds enacted in 2021, which required all absentee ballots to arrive at county auditors’ offices by 8:00 pm on election day. The majority of Iowans whose ballots arrived too late (despite being mailed before the election) were trying to vote in the Republican primary.

Hundreds more Iowans would have been able to vote by mail prior to the 2021 changes, but missed the new deadline for submitting an absentee ballot request form. More than half of them did not manage to cast a ballot another way in the June 7 election.

The new deadlines will trip up many more Iowans for the November election, when turnout will likely be about three times the level seen in this year’s primary, and more “snowbirds” attempt to vote by mail in Iowa from other states.

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Six terrible bills Iowa Republicans didn't pass in 2022

After a hectic two days at the capitol, the Iowa House and Senate finished their work for the year shortly after midnight on May 25.

In the coming days, Bleeding Heartland will cover some of the final bills in detail. As usual, there were a few surprises in the “standings” bill, such as a provision expanding open enrollment from public schools. While Democrats opposed many bills sent to Governor Kim Reynolds this week, including a ban on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for schools or child care centers, they welcomed one of the last-minute proposals, which exempts diapers and period products from Iowa’s sales tax.

This piece will focus on bills that didn’t make it through, despite a push from Reynolds or top Republican lawmakers.

I anticipate future legislative battles over most if not all of these proposals. Earlier this year, the governor signed into law two priority items that failed to advance in 2021: a measure banning transgender Iowans from girls’ and women’s sports, and deep cuts to unemployment benefits.

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