© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Recount Ordered In Lucas County; Miller-Meeks Pulls Ahead In 2nd District Race Still Too Close To Call

election officials speak at the lucas county court house
Katarina Sostaric
Lucas County Auditor Julie Masters and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announce a recount at the Lucas County Courthouse on Tuesday.

Iowa’s top election official announced Tuesday he has ordered a recount of votes in Lucas County after the results for one precinct were left out of election night totals. The error proved significant in the extremely close race for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. After the nearly 300 votes were added to the unofficial results, Republican candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks pulled ahead Tuesday morning. It's still too close to call a winner in what has been described as one of the closest races in the country.

Lucas County Auditor Julie Masters said her office discovered the problem Monday afternoon while preparing to certify the county’s election results.

“The software used for reading machine cartridges represented all precincts as reporting on election night, due to some test information that was already in the computer that wasn’t voided, wasn’t taken out,” Masters said. “The test results were reported instead of the actual results from the precinct.”

Masters said it was a result of human error and she takes full responsibility. She said she reached out to the secretary of state’s office when the problem was discovered.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said human error happens and is frustrating, but said the state's election review process is working, because the error was detected before the certification of votes.

“Because of the checks and balances, we’re able to catch those and make any adjustments that have to be made to get the most accurate results before we certify the final election results,” Pate said.

The Lucas County precinct that wasn’t reported on election night gave 217 additional votes to Miller-Meeks and 54 to Democrat Rita Hart, according to the auditor’s office. As of shortly before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the state’s unofficial election results showed Miller-Meeks a mere 40 votes ahead of Hart.

The margin shifted repeatedly throughout the day Tuesday, as county boards of supervisors canvassed their results, which included any last remaining absentee ballots and provisional votes, but Miller-Meeks' narrow lead held.

The error in Lucas County comes after Jasper County found discrepancies in its election results late last week. Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrot conducted a county-wide machine recount and a hand audit of the precinct in question before supervisors there canvassed the votes.

After that was resolved, Hart had pulled ahead in the preliminary count. But her slim lead gave way after the error in Lucas County was corrected. Pate said Tuesday he had not heard from any more counties about discrepancies in their vote counts and that he directed all 99 county auditors to double check their totals.

A spokesman for the Miller-Meeks campaign did not provide a comment Tuesday afternoon.

The Hart campaign expressed anger at the developments in Lucas County, where the board of supervisors certified the results Tuesday morning after the correction was made.

Shayla McCormally, an attorney for the Hart campaign, accused Pate and his staffers of "pressuring" the board to sign off on the results prematurely, just hours after the error was detected.

"We just feel that this needs to be a transparent process so Iowans have faith in the process. And knowing at the 11th hour that there's a significant issue that changes the results of a congressional race and then turning right around at the beginning of the next business day and pushing it through, that is our concern," McCormally said.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Pate, disputed the attorney's characterization and said the county had previously scheduled its canvass for Tuesday morning and "never once talked to anyone in our office about delaying it."

Under state law, counties must certify their election results by Tuesday Nov. 10. In this sense, University of Iowa election law expert Derek Muller says it's expected and "ordinary" that counties would finalize their results Tuesday.

"The canvass has to be done by today," Muller said. "So this is perfectly ordinary for Lucas and other counties to finalize their results by today. At least their preliminary finalized results."

Lucas County plans to start a machine recount of the whole county Thursday, followed by a hand recount of the affected Russell precinct. If the recount yields different results, county officials will be able to amend their certification to reflect that.

"There have to be methods to update what happens in a recount or any sort of other challenges that might arise," Muller added.

Candidates have three days after a county's canvass of votes to request a recount of specific counties or precincts if they wish.

It may well be weeks before the contest is settled. The statewide election results are unofficial until state officials certify them on Nov. 30.

"It's obviously really disheartening for both campaigns as they've each felt like they were ahead. And that each time the margins have changed, they've gotten progressively narrower," Muller said. "So it's going to be a tight finish and it's just letting the recount process play out."

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter
Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter