On the same day that Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate finally revealed his “election integrity” bill that aims to make it harder to vote in Iowa, it was revealed that the Dallas County Auditor had left 5,842 ballots uncounted in the November election, 13% of the total votes cast there.
In a bombshell story reported by the Des Moines Register, the Dallas County Auditor acknowledged their failure after the Secretary of State’s office noticed the huge discrepancy. It took until February 1, however, for anyone in the statewide elections office to catch the mistake. Jason Noble writes that it’s unclear if there’s a way to include those votes in the final tally now. It appears the election office ran several batches of absentee ballots through their machines, but didn’t upload the results into the reporting system for the Secretary of State.
Thanks to a huge stroke of luck, none of the final results of any of the races were flipped. The missing votes lined up relatively evenly with the rest of the total tally, meaning no loser should have actually won. But it easily could have created a massive problem, and the fact remains that thousands of Iowans in one of the state’s largest counties did not get their votes counted.
That is insane.
How on earth the Dallas County elections office could make a screw-up of this magnitude is unbelievable. To not count the vote of nearly 6,000 of your county’s residents, accounting for about one out of every three absentee ballots cast, completely undermines the credibility of their office. It’s rank incompetence, and ought to lead to the firing of election officials and the resignation of their county auditor, Julia Helm.
Helm was elected to her first term as Dallas County Auditor this November after handily winning a Republican primary against Cate Bryan and drawing no Democratic challenger for the general election. While she wasn’t the Auditor when this disaster occurred, she did work in the elections office. Helm served as the precinct election official coordinator for the Auditor’s office, where she’s been employed for the past seven years. She ran on that experience in her campaign.
As long as she remains in office, Dallas County voters simply cannot trust that their votes will be counted. Yes, discrepancies in the final vote tallies sometimes happen due to various circumstances, including through “human error.” But I can’t ever remember a situation in Iowa where an elections office literally didn’t report 13% of the votes they received. It’s additionally troubling for Helm that this wasn’t discovered – or at least not made public – until months after the election.
“It’s a shame that we’re 8 days into February and this monumental human error was just noticed,” former Iowa House candidate Scott Heldt told Starting Line. He netted an increase of 43 votes in his race against Clel Balder. “150 ‘missing’ votes could have been the difference in having 2 very different voices on key policy votes in the Legislature. Let me clarify this isn’t an issue of fraudulent voting or the need for tougher voter laws. This is an issue with people doing their civic duty and an elected official failing to uphold the sanctity and security of our elections. Simply unacceptable.”
Dallas County recorded 38,588 votes in the presidential election, when the total with the missing ballots should have amounted to 44,430. It’s possible election officials didn’t notice the problem since it was still an increase over the 2012 total vote of 38,184.
However, Dallas County, which includes the western suburbs of the Des Moines metro, is the fastest-growing county in the state. The county added 13,996 residents between 2010 and 2015 alone. There absolutely should have been a significant increase in their vote totals over 2012, and the fact that there wasn’t ought to have raised alarm bells with local and state officials.
It’s also incredibly rich that Secretary Pate is continuing his crusade of adding new restrictions to the Iowa voting process in the name of “election integrity,” while his office missed for months the undercounting of thousands of votes in a major county. Do they have no process to compare final turnout to estimated turnout, in which they could investigate when numbers appear off?
This will go down as one of the biggest embarrassments in recent Iowa electoral history. Nearly 6,000 voters were disenfranchised by the incompetence of local elections staff and a Secretary of State’s office that failed to discover it in time. Maybe Republicans like Paul Pate should get their own houses in order before they ram through vast changes to Iowa elections laws that scapegoat problems that don’t exist.
by Pat Rynard