Voting in the midterm elections concluded months ago, but their impact is still reverberating. This past week in Iowa, the state House essentially voted to hand an election victory to a Republican incumbent rather than count 29 ballots whose validity had been contested. The mailed ballots were marked with a routing barcode but, according to House Republicans, that doesn’t count as an “intelligent mail barcode” and can therefore not be used to validate the timeliness of the ballots’ submission.
The issue stems from the law lagging to catch up to the modern reality that mailed-in ballots are often not postmarked. Therefore, in order to determine whether a ballot was submitted on time, legislators and election authorities have to look to other information. State legislators updated the law to allow for “intelligent mail barcodes” only in 2016, but although they adapted that recently, this time around, they sought to stick to an arbitrary rigidity and reject the determination of the U.S. Postal Service itself that the ballots in question had been submitted on time.
The state House’s decision in the first contested election to go before the legislature in 27 years means that incumbent Republican Michael Bergan gets to keep his state House seat, finishing with a leading margin of just nine votes — meaning that the content of the rejected ballots could have easily swayed the outcome. In all, some 14,000 voters participated in this race, driving home just how minuscule Bergan’s margin really is.
His Democratic challenger Kayla Koether — who’s responsible for the challenge that brought her race to the legislature — denounced the result, asserting:
‘They are making a choice here about how to interpret the law and whether they will do so in a way that includes these 29 voters who want their votes to be counted or not. They can follow the rule of law and count these ballots.’
Republican state House member Steve Holt had insisted that their interpretation of the law demanded as much respect as the law itself, saying that legislators must “follow the rule of law in this case.”
Democratic state Representative Bruce Hunter was more direct, offering:
‘It seems nobody will ever deprive the people of Iowa of the right to vote except the Iowa Legislature. For 29 people in Winneshiek County, democracy is dead.’
The stolen Republican victory is a hollow one for the GOP, since across the country, despite a few high-profile Democratic losses, they lost major ground in the midterm elections. Democrats took some 40 Congressional seats from across the country, becoming the House majority and becoming poised to offer a significant roadblock to the next two years of President Donald Trump’s agenda.
That’s already manifested in a historically lengthy government shutdown sparked after Democrats refused to get on board with Trump’s push for a wall blocking off Mexico and could manifest in another one since Trump still won’t move forward without the wall.
Next, Democrats could take back the White House, with a significant field of Democratic challengers already shaping up including high profile names like Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).
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