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Recounts In Iowa House Districts 55, 82 Confirm Initial Results

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John Pemble/IPR file
Recounts in two closely-watched legislative races have confirmed the initial results. But one competitor says she's considering a potential legal challenge.

Recounts in two competitive Iowa legislative races have confirmed the initial results. But one of the competitors says her campaign still isn't over.

In House District 55, Republican incumbent Michael Bergan leads Democratic challenger Kayla Koether 6,924 votes to 6,915 in the northeast Iowa race. Bergan broaded his lead from 7 votes to 9 after three-person recount panels reviewed ballots in the race.

In House District 82, Republican challenger Jeff Shipley carved out a win over Democratic incumbent Phil Miller, taking 6,120 votes to Miller's 6,083. 

County officials have signed off on the recount results, but all of the state's elections tallies are considered unofficial until Iowa's Secretary of State formally canvasses them on December 3rd.

In the meantime, Decorah Democrat Kayla Koether says she's still considering all her options, including a potential legal challenge. The House District 55 race caught particular attention because of the narrow margin, and due to how some late-filed mail-in ballots were handled.

The Winneshiek County Auditor tossed out 32 absentee ballots, because they lacked a postmark required by state law. Without that verification, Auditor Ben Steines says he couldn't verify if the ballots were mailed in time. In neighboring Fayette County, elections workers mistakenly counted 12 un-postmarked ballots, a move the county auditor called unfortunate, but which state officials say cannot be undone.

Koether said Wednesday a legal challenge is still a possibility.

"I think we’re still figuring out what our options are and considering all the options. But I think at some point we just have to step back and inject some good…good old Iowa common sense into this,” Koether said. “I want everyone in this district and Winneshiek County to feel good about this election and its outcome. That’s why I think it’s really crucial that we make sure these folks’ voices are heard. They voted in good faith; we should count their votes in good faith.”

Decorah-based psychotherapist Liam Murphy is one of the voters whose ballot was nullified. Speaking Wednesday, he said he would support Koether if she decides to file suit.

"Honestly, I'm following Kayla's lead. So what's best for her is something that I've committed to," Murphy said. "If she thinks that there's a decent chance, and I know she's looking into every avenue, then I'll cooperate with that as much as possible."

The apparent winner and current representative Michael Bergan did not respond to requests for comment. 

In southeast Iowa, outgoing Representative Phil Miller thanked his constituents and supporters.

"[I]n a very close race like this, when the difference was just a few votes, it was good to have a recount," Miller said in a written statement. "I thank the county Auditor's staff and all the people that worked at the polls on election day. It was a privilege serving the citizens of Jefferson, Davis, and Van Buren counties."

Miller's loss in House District 82 comes as a surprise to some. The district includes the left-leaning city of Fairfield and has roughly 2,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

Challenger and incoming lawmaker Jeff Shipley said he didn't shy away from difficult conversations with residents and courted voters on a spectrum of issues that he characterized as spanning from "extremely liberal to also very conservative."

"People were really craving for a more authentic, a more real dialogue on all these different issues," Shipley said. "Basically the status quo of our political culture is really limiting, limiting ourselves and limiting the possibilites of what we can accomplish."