© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Linn County Auditor Asks For More Time To Tabulate Ballots Ahead Of Election Day

A voter casts her ballot at a polling site for Georgia's 2014 primary election in Atlanta.
David Goldman
Linn County Auditor Joel Miller is asking for more time to process ballots ahead of Election Day, citing an expected surge in absentee voting.

Citing an expected surge in absentee voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns that the flood of ballots may delay the reporting of unofficial results on election night, the auditor of Iowa’s second largest county is asking the state’s top elections officials to give workers more time to tally absentee ballots ahead of Election Day.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller submitted a petition to Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that under current law, “most” Iowa counties will not be able to finish counting absentee ballot by 10 pm on Tuesday Nov. 3.

“Due to COVID-19, many counties expect to at least double the amount of absentee ballots they will count in this year’s general election. With double the amount of absentee ballots to count, it is unreasonable to believe that all Iowa counties will be able to count twice the amount of absentee ballots on the Monday and Tuesday for this General Election,” the petition reads in part.

Under Iowa Code, elections officials can begin tabulating absentee ballots the day before a general Election Day, a timeframe that Miller argues is unworkable during the “extreme and unusual circumstances” of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I'd like to be able to report everything we possibly can starting at 9pm on Election Night,” Miller told IPR. “And I think in order to do that we need to be able to start the process maybe as early as the Friday before.”

Miller said he’s eager to ensure that Iowans can fall asleep on election night knowing the unofficial winners. And he’s worried that the current timeline would put undue stress on his elections staff, and on the machines his office depends on to tabulate the ballots.

“We have two [high-speed scanners], which under normal circumstances should just be fine. But they do break down. They are mechanical and electronic. They do break down,” he said. “And to have one breakdown on the Monday or Tuesday, while we’re counting would be very stressful.”

Representatives for Pate did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Filing the petition less than two months before Election Day, Miller’s request would need to be approved rapidly in order to be effective.

According to the state’s Administrative Rules website, “[t]he standard rulemaking process takes a minimum of 108 days (including publication delays) and frequently lasts six months or longer”.

There are provisions for an expedited “emergency rulemaking process," if certain conditions are met, including if the typical public notice and participation process is “unnecessary, impracticable or contrary to the public interest.”

Still, Miller says he’s eager to find some kind of solution.

“I'd hate to see Iowa fall into that category of delaying the actual unofficial results on election night,” Miller said. “The sooner that we can being the process, the better.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter