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Putnam Township ballots missing Linn County supervisor race

Joel Miller speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.
Joel Miller speaking at the Iowa State fair in Auguist. He called a press conference before polls closed on Tuesday. Miller took the blame for incorrectly printed ballots in a small Linn County precinct.

A printing error meant a small township didn't get a vote in an important county supervisor race. But based on turnout, it might not have mattered in the end.

When Mark Banowetz went to vote at his precinct in Putnam Township Tuesday, something wasn't right.

“What I did is I went in to vote. Went up, got my ballot, went over, sat down, went through and started marking off all the different people I wanted to win," he said. "I got done and thought, Hey where’s my name at?"

Banowetz, a Republican, filed to run in a race to fill a Linn County supervisor vacancy. He read through the front of his ballot. He read through the back. Not only was his name missing but so was his opponent's, Democrat Kristen Running-Marquardt.

Four hours before polls closed Tuesday, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office announced that "a very serious oversight" took away the ability for Putnam's 3,000 residents vote on the highest office in their county.

Shortly after, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller told reporters it was his failure and it should not have occurred. But added, there are not “do-overs” in Iowa elections meaning he couldn't legally restart the election in Putnam with corrected ballots. He said the ball is in the candidates’ court. If they deemed the margin of the race tight enough, they could choose to challenge the results which could range from a recount to a special election.

A total of 27,141 Linn County residents voted in the county supervisor race. Democrat Running-Marquardt got 15,096 votes, or 57 percent, while 11,281 or 43 percent voted Republican Banowetz. To win the seat, Banowetz would need to net 3,815 more votes. There are only 2,190 registered voters in the Putnam Township precinct, and on Election Day, only 1,480 cast a ballot.

While the result may not change, Banowetz said he is weighing his options on whether to call for a special election for the township. He said the auditor's error deprived him of a chance to see how his community voted in the race.

"I wish it would show up differently that I won the township that I live in, you know,” he said. “But I don't think they’re going to be able to do that unless we have a recount or something.”

Miller told reporters Tuesday the incomplete ballots for Putnam were one of 111 versions of the ballot personalized for each precinct. The error made it through the review of his staff, political parties, candidates and public examination as printed in The Gazette, Cedar Rapids’ paper of record.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in a statement that his office is monitoring the situation and that no other races on the ballot were impacted.

Bad news for Miller continued into Tuesday night as he lost his bid for Iowa secretary of state, the state's chief election official. Following the news of the inccorect Putnam ballots, GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman weighed in to say the error should “instantly disqualify him from the” secretary's race.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa