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Bipartisan Bill To Uniformly Count Mail-In Ballots Advances

jon jacobsen
John Pemble
Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs

Lawmakers in the Iowa House advanced a bill Tuesday that would ensure absentee ballots that get mailed on time are counted in a consistent way.

It is a bipartisan effort to avoid repeating what happened in a recent northeast Iowa contested election that was separated by nine votes.

The House ultimately voted along party lines in January to not count 29 mail-in ballots in House District 55. According to Republicans, the ballots didn’t have the right kind of barcode to prove they were mailed on time. Democrats said the ballots were mailed on time, and refusing to count them amounted to disenfranchising voters.

Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, said the bill (with amendments) requires all counties to pay for and use the same barcode system so that all ballots are treated equally across counties.

“I think uniformity is absolutely mandatory, that all of the counties do this in a similarly situated way, otherwise we’re back to Bush v. Gore where we would have different counting standards in different counties,” Jacobsen said.

The bill says all counties would have to start using the same system before absentee voting begins in the 2020 election.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said he and Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, started working on this proposal after the vote regarding the House District 55 election.

“We need something—as long as it’s available, and this is available at a relatively cheap cost—to make sure that if a voter votes, and they vote right and do everything right, that their vote will be counted,” Hunter said. “And in my opinion, this is the way to do it.” 

The bill also advanced out of the House State Government Committee Tuesday evening.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter