So many ballots, so little time
Nov 07, 2012 (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
WATERLOO, Iowa -- Black Hawk County election officials broke a law Tuesday. They failed to finish counting a record 29,000-plus absentee ballots by 10 p.m.
Asked what the penalty was for noncompliance, County Auditor and Elections Commissioner Grant Veeder held out both hands, in jest, as if to have handcuffs slapped on him.
There is no prescribed penalty, and it wasn't for lack of effort. The absentee counting started at 6:30 a.m. Monday. "I thought we were in good shape," Veeder said.
The counting was completed nearly two hours late. Absentee totals started rolling into returns around the witching hour, turning a couple of close or seemingly Republican-leaning races into comfortable Democratic wins for incumbent state legislators Jeff Danielson and Bob Kressig over Republican challengers Matt Reisetter and Jim Kenyon, respectively.
Reisetter had led Danielson by as much as 2,000 votes and Kenyon held a slim six-vote lead over Kressig before the absentee ballots rolled in.
And then one computer card containing 5,296 absentee ballots would not work, forcing election officials to count those by hand. Unofficial race totals were not complete until after 1 a.m. today
The wave of absentee balloting did not significantly alter turnout from the 2008 general election. Unofficially, about 74 percent of the county's registered voter cast ballots Tuesday, roughly the same percentage as four years ago. The only difference, Veeder said, was that more people voted absentee. More than 40 percent of those voting cast absentee ballots.
Through Tuesday morning, a record 32,000 absentee ballots had been requested and 29,000 returned, compared with 24,034 absentee ballots requested and 21,893 returned in 2008. Of the absentees returned, this year, more than 14,000 were requested by Democrats, 7,000 plus by registered Republicans and 9,000 by independents. Election officials reported more absentee ballots came in later Tuesday. The Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors will canvass the votes at 1 p.m. Tuesday, after which they become official.
While election officials could see the absentee tide coming, the number of Election Day voter registrations caught them unawares. "
That was kind of the big surprise of the election," Veeder said, and made for long lines at a number of precincts. Additional voter registration forms had to be delivered in Cedar Falls to polling places at City Hall and Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Many University of Northern Iowa students also apparently registered on Election Day. Election workers handed out registration forms to voters waiting in line in hopes of facilitating the process.
Mac McDonald, chairman of the Republicans of Black Hawk County, questioned the state's same-day voter registration option.
"That was holding people up. Why are we allowing people to register the same day they vote. These students could have registered at least six different times before now. They could have voted six times before now," he said. "Something needs to change."
Veeder also said a voting machine at St. John's Lutheran Church apparently malfunctioned and an administrative recount of those totals will be conducted.
McDonald said he has a list of more than 60 polling irregularities that the party will be reporting. Among the irregularities he mentioned were machines that were down and machines that had collected more ballots than people who had signed in to vote.
McDonald said there was also a potential issue in one precinct where students would register to vote and then immediately "attest" to the person standing in line with them so that they could vote, too.
While McDonald said the procedure is completely legal, he did raise questions about it happening four times in one precinct.
"It's legal, but it smelled," he said. "When we have 63 irregularities in Black Hawk County something needs to be fixed."
In another instance, a family member turned in an absentee ballot for a physically disabled person who was unable to sign the absentee ballot, therefore it could not be counted. Veeder said in such instances, there are provisions for one person to be able to sign on another's behalf if that signature is witnessed. The ballot in question will go to a special absentee counting board and the circumstance reviewed to determine if it can be counted.
Courier staff writer Emily Christensen contributed to this story.
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