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Johnson County begins slow, days-long recount process for Second Congressional District race

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL)- Election officials in Johnson County began recounting votes Wednesday morning in one of the closest congressional races in U.S. history.

As of Wednesday evening, Republican Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks leads Democrat Rita Hart by 47 votes in the race for Iowa's Second Congressional District.

Miller-Meeks has claimed victory in the race, but Hart's campaign has requested a recount in every one of the district's 24 counties. Under Iowa law, any candidate can request a recount if the margin is within 1% or fifty votes.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate was in Iowa City to observe the recount Wednesday morning. He said Johnson County is the second one to begin the process, behind Scott County, which started yesterday.

"It is going to be interesting to watch the results," Pate told reporters.

The recount began at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said it could take several days to complete. A record-breaking nearly 84,000 ballots were cast in the election in Johnson County.

The Recount Process

The recount process is a slow and meticulous one.

Election officials run the ballots through the high-speed vote tabulation machine. The ballots are then given to the recount board, comprised of representatives from each campaign and a third person agreed upon by both sides.

The board goes through the ballots by hand to make sure the numbers today match the ones from election night.

Weipert said the campaigns are visually inspecting the ballots for what is known as undervotes and overvotes.

"An undervote is when a voter does not vote in a race, or the machine does not count it," Weipert said. "Overvote means they would have voted for one of the candidates but also filled in the oval for write-in and wrote someone's name in."

The Hart campaign said there are more than 200 overvotes and over 18,000 undervoted ballots in the Second Congressional District.

On Wednesday night, the campaign sent a letter to Pate's office asking him to clarify guidance sent out on how to conduct the recount. The campaign said it believed some recount boards are interpreting the guidance in a way not intended under Iowa law.

The guidance from your office says that “after the machine count for a precinct, the Recount Board may conduct a hand recount in that precinct if it reported either undervotes or overvotes on Election Day and after the machine recount.” We understand that some counties and recount boards interpret this guidance to mean that they cannot apply the law’s voter intent standards to any ballots in a precinct where a machine recount is being conducted, unless the board conducts a full hand recount of all the ballots in that same precinct. This is significant because of the unusually large number of absentee ballots in this election (which the counties generally treat as a single “precinct”), and because of the likelihood that these ballots contain valid votes for the candidates which a machine recount will not detect.

Hart campaign letter to Sec. of State Paul Pate on Wednesday November 18, 2020.

The campaign said some of the recount board is taking the guidance to mean they can conduct a machine recount only. and not go through them by hand looking for under or overvotes. That would mean those under and overvotes would not be counted.

"Unless you clarify your guidance, it is practically certain that the recount will disregard more than 50 lawfully cast ballots with clear voter intent, in violation of Iowa law. There are enough ballots at stake here to decide the outcome of the election.

Because Iowa law clearly requires the voter intent standards to be applied in the event of a machine recount, and because it permits recount boards to conduct machine recounts, you should clearly instruct the recount boards to take the necessary steps to ensure these ballots are identified and appropriately counted."

Hart campaign letter to Iowa Sec. of State Paul Pate on Wednesday November 18, 2020

Johnson County officials hope to have their recount complete by Thursday, but it could take longer depending on the hand count.

Pate said most of the 24 counties are conducting their recounts over the next week. He hopes to be able to certify the election results before the Executive Council on November 30.

"We don't want them to have to spend their Thanksgiving day here," Pate said. "If we have to, we will work straight through the Thanksgiving holiday."

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Daniel Perreault


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