Counting error puts Democrat ahead in Iowa US House race

November 6, 2020 GMT
Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, addresses the media at a news conference Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton, Iowa. Preliminary election results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.(Christopher Braunschweig/Newton Daily News via AP)
Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, addresses the media at a news conference Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton, Iowa. Preliminary election results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.(Christopher Braunschweig/Newton Daily News via AP)
Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, addresses the media at a news conference Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton, Iowa. Preliminary election results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.(Christopher Braunschweig/Newton Daily News via AP)
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Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, addresses the media at a news conference Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton, Iowa. Preliminary election results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.(Christopher Braunschweig/Newton Daily News via AP)
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Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott, addresses the media at a news conference Friday, Nov. 6, 2020 at the Jasper County Courthouse in Newton, Iowa. Preliminary election results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.(Christopher Braunschweig/Newton Daily News via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Democratic candidate took the lead Friday over the Republican in a southeast Iowa race for an open congressional seat after officials corrected a vote-counting mistake.

Preliminary results had shown Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leading the open U.S. House race over Democrat Rita Hart by 282 votes out of more than 393,000 cast. However, Jasper County elections officials spotted a problem Thursday and, after working with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, determined the numbers had been inaccurately reported from one precinct.

After the correction, Hart now leads the race by 162 votes.

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The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the race, deeming it too close to call.

Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott didn’t give details about how the mistake happened but said the mistake was “human error” and occurred Tuesday night at the county courthouse as figures were being transferred onto a spreadsheet.

Asked if the numbers for the candidates were transposed, Parrott said, “That’s pretty close.”

Secretary of State Paul Pate ordered a hand-count audit of the unofficial election results from the precinct where the votes weren’t counted accurately. Parrott said his office also would do a mechanical recount of all of the county’s ballots.

“The system worked and we will make sure all the numbers are accurate,” Pate said.

Parrott and Pate emphasized that Iowa’s election system is nonpartisan and noted that in every election, mistakes are made that later are corrected.

“This just happened to be a correction in a very, very tight race and it’s consequential,” Pate said.

Under Iowa law, absentee ballots will be counted if they were postmarked by Monday and arrive at a county auditor’s office by noon Nov. 9, so official vote totals in the race still could change. Provisional ballots deemed to be eligible also will be added to the total.

The Secretary of State’s Office said more than 12,000 ballots that had been sent to voters in the district had not been returned. Only a small number have arrived since Election Day, and officials said that, based on past elections, most likely won’t be turned in.

Iowa doesn’t doesn’t have an automatic recount provision, but either campaign can request a recount of the entire district, specific counties or individual precincts after next week’s official canvass. Pate said neither campaign has notified his office of plans to seek a recount.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign released a statement Friday afternoon calling for more details about how the mistake occurred.

“We have demanded additional information because those unexplained discrepancies have the potential to alter the election outcome,” the statement said. “We expect to receive that information immediately.”

Hart campaign manager Zach Meunier also released a statement that stressed the need for an accurate vote count.

“We are confident by the end of this process that Rita Hart will be the next congresswoman from Iowa’s Second District,” Meunier said.

The House seat was open because Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack opted not to seek reelection. If Hart ultimately wins the election, it will come as a relief to Democrats who endured a miserable night that saw Iowa voters favoring Republican for the presidency, U.S. Senate, another U.S. House seat and in a majority of state legislative races.