Election recounts in two counties could affect close auditor’s race

By: and - November 9, 2022 4:46 pm

Poll workers were busy with a steady stream of voters Tuesday at First Church of the Open Bible in Des Moines. (Photo by Jim Obradovich for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The full election tallies of two Iowa counties are delayed by technical errors that will require recounts — with the potential to affect a very close state auditor’s race.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate called Tuesday night for the expedited recounts of votes in Des Moines County and Warren County. Warren County supervisors held an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon and authorized the recount, which is expected to start Thursday morning. The Des Moines County supervisors meet at 11 a.m. Thursday.

According to an early morning tweet from Pate, there were also delays in Linn County reports, which were uploaded after 1 a.m. Wednesday.

At that time, Pate said there were a total of 30,000 ballots affected by the delays. Kevin Hall, communications director for the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, said the majority of votes in that figure were from Linn County absentee ballots, which have since been included in the unofficial election results.

The addition of the Linn ballots gave State Auditor Rob Sand, the Democratic incumbent, a slight lead of about 3,100 votes over Republican challenger Todd Halbur, according to partial, unofficial election results. That margin represented about 0.2% of the nearly 1.2 million votes cast in the race.

The total number of outstanding ballots was not immediately clear but was estimated to be less than Sand’s lead.

In Des Moines County, there are about 800 absentee ballots that are missing from the results reported Tuesday to the state, said Terri Johnson, the county’s auditor. That was due to an error in transmitting the electronic results after scanning the paper ballots.

“When we uploaded those into the final tally, it showed that they were uploaded,” Johnson said. “But when we ran our results, they were not showing up in there.”

Johnson plans to count all of the absentee votes again to ensure the results are correct. Des Moines County supervisors are set to meet at 11 a.m. Thursday to authorize the recount, and Johnson hopes to start the process about noon.

“I want to get it done as soon as possible,” she said.

Warren County Auditor Traci Vanderlinden estimated there were up to 2,000 uncounted ballots — although she did not know a precise number — from five precincts in her county. She said someone prematurely removed memory drives from tallying machines, and that a recount of all the ballots from those precincts is required.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors met Wednesday afternoon to authorize the partial recount, and Vanderlinden said it would take place late Thursday morning.

“It’ll take just a couple hours at the most,” she said. “It shouldn’t take too awful long.”

The Des Moines County recount also has the potential to affect the Iowa House District 99 race, in which Republican Matthew Rinker leads Democratic State Rep. Dennis Cohoon by 771 votes.

All counties will conduct audits

In addition to the recounts, every county is required to conduct post-election audits in two randomly selected precincts. The audits will be counted by hand to ensure numbers match up with the totals by ballot tabulators, looking at the gubernatorial race and constitutional amendment ballot measure results.

“Post-election audits add another layer of integrity to the election process,” Secretary Pate said in a news release. “I want all Iowans to know their vote counts, and it will be counted correctly.”

Turnout falls short of 2018 midterms

He said the total number of ballots cast was less than the turnout of the 2018 midterm elections but that it was still the second-highest in state history for midterms. More than 1.2 million people voted, Pate said. That is about an 8% decline from 2018.

Sand might be the lone incumbent Democrat to be reelected this year to statewide executive office. Attorney General Tom Miller conceded to Republican Brenna Bird Tuesday night and trails her by about 20,100 votes, according to the partial results. Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald trails Republican Roby Smith by about 30,500 votes in unofficial results.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.