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Sorting through confusing recounts in an Iowa state House election
If Your Time is short
- The 2022 election winner in Iowa House District 81, which covers northwest Davenport, was declared multiple times, switching hands between the Republican candidate, Luana Stoltenberg, and the Democrat, Craig Cooper.
- Stoltenberg led by 29 votes in unofficial results Nov. 9. After several administrative recounts and a county canvass certified by the Board of Supervisors, Cooper was declared the winner with a six-vote lead.
- A bipartisan three-member recount board, hand-picked by the candidates, eventually declared Stoltenberg the victor by 11 votes after Stoltenberg requested a recount of the county canvass results.
Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for Arizona governor who lost her election by more than 17,000 votes and has refused to concede defeat, invoked her home state of Iowa in her bid to discredit the vote count that hands her the Arizona loss.
"Meet Luana Stoltenberg. She originally LOST her race for Iowa State House when Machines declared the Democrat the Winner," Lake wrote on her Twitter account. "A Hand-Recount later reversed the results and gave Luana the WIN. I’m old enough to remember when an Obama judge dismissed my case against Machines."
Lake grew up in the Davenport area that includes the district Stoltenberg will represent beginning in January. It was controversial in Iowa, as Lake is in Arizona and nationally, so we decided to unpack the facts about Stoltenberg’s narrow win.
On Nov. 9, the day after the Nov. 8 general election, Scott County’s unofficial election results showed Luana Stoltenburg, a Republican, in a close lead over her Democratic opponent Craig Cooper. She had a 29-vote margin in the House District 81 race, which covers northwest Davenport, on election night giving her the unofficial win in the District 81 race.
On Nov. 10, the Scott County Auditor’s office discovered that 470 absentee ballots had not been counted in the election results. Scott County Auditor Kerri Tompkins, a Republican, ordered a Nov. 15 absentee ballot recount.
However, during that recount, the machines tabulating absentee ballots frequently jammed and the ending totals didn’t match hand-counted audits of machine counts, Tompkins’ told the Quad-City Times. This resulted in a hand count of the ballots and another subsequent machine count where the totals were similar, but not the exact same.
The machine-counted and hand-audited results showed Cooper in the lead by 6 votes. Tompkins said she was confident in the results, according to the Quad-City Times. The Scott County supervisors certified that canvass on Nov. 21 in a 4-1 vote, with Democrat Ken Croken voting no.
Stoltenberg filed for a recount and a three-member recount board selected by the candidates conducted it as required by Iowa law. This board’s hand-counted tally found 45 fewer votes than the auditor had tallied in the November administrative recount: 31 fewer for Cooper and 11 fewer for Stoltenberg. Meanwhile, a machine recount by the recount board had the same results as the county canvass.
Tompkins told the reporters she believes the recount board missed a box of votes that were counted by the machine. According to Iowa Code 50.48, the recount board has discretion over the report filed with the county auditor’s office for the county canvass.
According to the Times, recount board members said they’re confident in their counting and the election results.
Stoltenberg won by 11 votes in the official canvass signed by the recount board. The Iowa State Board of Canvassers — composed of Gov. Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Auditor Rob Sand, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald — finalized a state canvass from recounts in Iowa House Districts 59, 73 and 81 on Dec. 16. That board certified votes for all other races Dec. 1.
Iowa’s voting systems don’t rely on Electronic Ballot Marking Systems that mark voters’ choices on paper ballots, in place of voters marking on the paper ballots themselves. Instead, Iowa hails paper ballot security while using vote tabulation machines that electronically count votes. Iowa audits voting tabulation machines before and after each election to ensure the accuracy of the vote counts.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, required hand-counted audits of two races per county in the 2022 midterm to ensure machine tabulations match hand-counted audits.
"Our post-election audits consistently match the ballot tabulators perfectly," Pate wrote in a press release. "Adding another race to the process gives greater protection, transparency, and security to the process. We want Iowans to know their vote counts."
The Brennan Center for Justice found that electronic voting systems like those used in Maricopa County’s elections in Arizona are more likely to fail than paper ballot systems. Lake has tried to discredit these electronic voting systems in her campaign by filing a lawsuit against Maricopa County to prohibit the use of voting machines there.
However, the Federal Election Commission and independent audits have found Dominion voting systems, such as those in Maricopa County, are secure. Maricopa County performs audits before and after the election to ensure the accuracy of the vote tabulation.
The Lake campaign did not respond to our request for comment.
Lake claimed in a tweet that voting machines erroneously gave a Democrat the win in the House District 81 race before a hand count overturned the result. However, a county canvass, not machines, declared Democrat Craig Cooper the winner, plus, Stoltenberg initially had been declared a winner after an election night count by machines.
Election results are not final until certified by the Iowa State Board of Canvassers. Before that certification, though, a three-member panel selected a paper audit over the machine count and declared Stoltenberg the winner. Lake’s claim leaves out important context from a line of events outlined in election law. We rate this statement as Half True.
Kari Lake tweet, Dec. 10, 2022
Maricopa County web page, "Auditing Elections Equipment In Maricopa County"
Brennan Center for Justice, "Voting Machines at Risk in 2022," March 1, 2022
Iowa Secretary of State, "MEDIA RELEASE: Secretary Pate expanding post-election audits to ensure integrity of the vote," Nov. 1, 2022
Iowa Secretary of State, "MEDIA RELEASE: State Board of Canvassers certifies Iowa’s 2022 general election," Dec. 1, 2022
Des Moines Register, "Hand recount flips Iowa legislative race to Republican candidate in razor-thin victory," Dec. 8, 2022
Kari Lake’s campaign website
ABC News, "Arizona election results certified, Kari Lake expected to challenge," Dec. 5, 2022.
NBC News, "Republican Kari Lake files lawsuit in bid to overturn Arizona election," Dec. 9, 2022
KPNX-TV, "Kari Lake’s legal challenge to Katie Hobbs’ victory could drag on beyond Hobbs’ swearing-in as governor," Dec. 13, 2022
AZCentral, "’Furthering false narratives’: Lake, Finchem lawsuit draws sanction order from judge," Dec. 1, 2022
WQAD-TV, "4 recounts later, Stoltenberg claims victory in Iowa House District 81 race," Dec. 7, 2022
WQAD-TV, "Here’s a recap of Iowa House District 81’s many recounts," Ded. 9, 2022
Quad-City Times, "Scott County Auditor ‘100% confident’ in county’s election results," Nov. 21, 2022
Quad-City Times, "Scott County Supervisors certify election results again, amid ongoing confusion," Dec. 13, 2022
Quad-City Times, "Republicans win big in Scott County," Nov. 9, 2022.
Quad-City Times, "Razor thin: Stoltenberg wins House District 81 recount by 11 votes," Dec. 8, 2022
Scott County, Iowa recount canvass results, Iowa House District 81
Scott County, Iowa county canvass results
Iowa Code 50.48 — "General recount provisions"
Paul Pate tweet, Dec. 16, 2022
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Sorting through confusing recounts in an Iowa state House election
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