Judge Hears Arguments in House Race Ballot Dispute

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A judge is considering whether to order election officials to count 29 mailed absentee ballots that could change the outcome of an Iowa House race or dismiss a lawsuit claiming voters have been disenfranchised by officials who refuse to count them.

Judge Scott Beattie heard arguments Thursday in a case that could flip the winner of the race, in which incumbent Republican Michael Bergan leads Democrat Kayla Koether by nine votes in the northeast Iowa district, which includes Winneshiek, Clayton and Fayette counties.

The ballots were not postmarked but carry a postal bar code that confirms they were mailed by the state-mandated deadline.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate and Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines, both Republicans, say they don’t have to count the ballots because they were not postmarked and don’t carry a special bar code auditor’s use to authenticate ballots. They’ve asked Beattie to dismiss the lawsuit.

They say state law requires such election challenges to be taken to the Iowa House and not the courts.

Koether’s attorney argued that the judge should order Steines and Pate to count the ballots.