Many public opinion polls show Iowa’s U.S. Senate race is close, with a Quinnipiac University Poll released yesterday showing the race tied. If the results tonight aren’t conclusive and the candidates are separated by just a few thousand or even a few hundred votes, there is no state law requiring a recount. In fact, to get a statewide recount, a candidate would have to file a recount request with each of Iowa’s 99 county auditors.
Chance McElhaney, a spokesman for Iowa’s secretary of state, says a candidate may ask for recounts in specific precincts, too, rather than the entire county.
“There is no automatic recount in Iowa,” he says. “Basically, a candidate that has their name printed on the ballot or that gets a vote in the precinct that they’re requesting can request a recount from the county auditor.”
There has been no statewide recount in modern history, but there are often recounts in state legislative races where winning margins are sometimes fewer than a dozen votes.
“Statewide and federal (race), to be honest, we really don’t see recounts in those races,” McElhaney says.
But since the outcome of the race between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst may determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in January, leaders of both political parties have made plans to rush lawyers and election experts to Iowa overnight if there is the possibility of a recount. It is the candidate who requests a recount. Each county has a “canvas” of all votes cast to certify the election results. That happens either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. The deadline for filing a recount is three days after that official canvas is done. If the margin in the race is greater than one percent, the candidate would have to post a bond, to cover the cost of the recount.
Each county’s board of supervisors is the body which officially orders a recount and state officials say they know of no instance when a board of supervisors has refused a recount request. If a recount is requested, each county’s auditor decides how the recount will be conducted.
“The Recount Board…could hand-count if they wanted, they can use the machines if they wanted or they could do both,” McElhaney says.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, county election officials will count any late-arriving absentee ballots that have a Monday postmark and all the “provisional” ballots that were cast at precincts on Election Day. If there is a statewide recount, the Iowa secretary of state’s office will offer legal advice, but each county auditor will be responsible for the conduct of the recount in his or her county.
(This post was updated at 11:26 a.m. to clarify the timeframe for filing a recount request.)