Editorial: Iowa’s toss-up election has yet to be decided, hinges on less than 10 votes

The fate of Iowa’s 55th House of Representatives district rests with 29 legally cast but uncounted ballots. Graphic by Maria Nevada

Will Patterson

The 55th district of Iowa’s House of Representatives—a district located in northeastern Iowa—has yet to have a clear victor from the Nov. 6 midterm election. Democratic candidate Kayla Koether and Republic incumbent Michael Bergan have been tied up in a close election that has dragged into 2019. The election result hinges on less than 10 votes.

This last midterm election yielded the highest voter turnout in a century, with nearly half of eligible voters casting ballots. Iowa was no exception. According to the Des Moines Register, the state experienced record-setting amounts of voter participation. Around 180,000 more Iowans voted in the 2018 midterms than the 2014 midterms.

So, how with so many votes should the government approach such a close election? That’s where the debate begins.

The 55th House district of Iowa saw 14,000 voters cast ballots for either Koether or Bergan. Upon the initial count, Koether appeared to be trailing by a mere seven votes. Additionally, 33 absentee ballots were left uncounted.

Koether’s Communications Director John Hall said that the ballot counting devices noted that 140 ballots were unclear on which politician was voted for. A committee was tasked to determine voter intent on these ballots if possible. Even after the 140 ballots were examined, the race could still be a toss-up based on the absentee ballots.

“They refused to count them on an interpretation of the Iowa statute of what is an acceptable post mark,” Hall said. “Twenty-nine of those ballots arrived at the county auditor’s office with clear signs they were submitted before the deadline.”

On Dec. 20, Judge Scott Beattie ruled that the proper way to deal with this unusually close race was for Koether to contest it in the Iowa House of Representatives. That means the election could still yield a different outcome sometime in January or beyond.

Most opinionated articles take swings at the failures and wrongdoings of governments and organizations, but this situation deserves praise. Despite neither candidate appearing completely satisfied with the situation, this solution laid out by the court best addresses the problem at hand.

In a news cycle plagued by rigged, gerrymandered and skewed elections, Iowa’s 55th House district stands as a shining example of how states can conquer such daunting situations. It’s practices like this that keep democracy thriving—albeit it takes time.