The Iowa Legislature on Monday handed a seat to a state GOP lawmaker after voting to reject 29 absentee mail ballots in a closely-contested race, according to The Associated Press.
The news service noted that the incumbent Republican, Rep. Michael Bergan, had won the northeast Iowa seat by nine votes.
The result led to a challenge from his Democratic opponent, which by law required the House to decide whether the absentee mail ballots in question would be opened and counted.
The AP noted that the 29 mailed absentee ballots were sent to election officials on time, according to a U.S. Postal Service scan of a barcode on the envelopes. But House Republicans contended that a state law mandated that those barcodes could not be used to validate the ballots.
According to Iowa law, mailed absentee ballots are required to have postmarks confirming they were sent a day prior to an election. The 29 ballots in question did not have a postmark.
The Republicans in the Legislature argued that a postal routing barcode was not an intelligent mail barcode under Iowa law and that the ballots should be rejected because of it.
“This isn’t comfortable. This isn’t pleasant and we don’t change the rules in the middle of the contest. That’s why we have to follow the rule of law in this case,” GOP state Rep. Steve Holt said, according to AP.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office told AP that 1,045 absentee ballots received by mail were rejected in the November election in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the outlet.
Bergan won the Iowa state legislature seat in November in a race where about 14,000 votes were cast. A ruling that required officials to count the 29 mailed absentee ballots from Winneshiek County could have changed the outcome.
Democrat Kayla Koether filed an election challenge after the race, arguing that lawmakers had the authority to interpret the law in a way that would allow them to count the ballots.
“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,” she said. “They can follow the rule of law and count these ballots.”
The GOP-led House voted, 53-42, to dismiss Koether's challenge and reject the ballots. It represented the first time the Legislature decided a contested election outcome since 1992.
Koether told AP that she and other voters may file a lawsuit in response to the decision.
Iowa House Democrats condemned the decision, saying in a tweet that the House had denied "29 Iowans their right to vote."
In the first vote of the Iowa House in 2019, #IAGOP voted to deny 29 Iowans their right to vote. On a straight party line vote, 53-42 Republican lawmakers to just disenfranchise 29 voters. #ialegis #CountEveryVote #votersuppression— Iowa House Democrats (@iowahousedems) January 29, 2019