Iowa House considers mandatory tracking codes for absentee ballots

DES MOINES — There’s a bipartisan effort in the Iowa House to ensure every absentee ballot mailed on time gets counted in the 2020 election. Republican Representative Jon Jacobsen of Council Bluffs is leading the discussion — a discussion that started after a disputed legislative race in the Decorah area.

“Uniformity between and among all the counties is absolutely requisite in this situation,” he said.

The three counties in House District 55 each handled absentee ballots that were delivered after Election Day differently. A bill that cleared a House committee will require each county auditor to pay for a U.S. Postal Service marking system that tracks when mail is sent and received. Pat Gill, the Woodbury County Auditor, paid two cents per absentee ballot to track ballots in his county for the 2018 election.

“It is something that’s been very successful,” Gill said. “You feel pretty good about making sure the ballots that should be counted are counted and the ones that are rejected should be rejected rightfully.”

Gill’s office in Sioux City received nine ballots last year that did not have a postmark showing when they’d been mailed.

“It took me 15 minutes to run a report and determine those ballots weren’t in the (postal) system prior to Election Day,” Gill said.

Shelly Wolf, the Bremer County Auditor, also paid to have ballots in her county tracked in 2018, but the system generated some errors.

“We think we’ve got the issue fixed,” she says. “It had to do with the last four digits of the zip code.”

Wolf would prefer to have a hard deadline for when ballots must be in county auditor’s offices. Representative Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines, said having every county use bar codes that checked by the Postal Service is more fair to voters.

“There are so many instances, right around 1200 this year, where a voter voted an absentee ballot, they did everything right, they got it in on time and if we say it had to be in by Election Day, their vote wouldn’t have been counted.”

The Secretary of State’s office estimates it would cost about $13,000 for the 2020 election if every county auditor uses the Postal Service tracking system.