Despite having been mailed back before the November election, 29 absentee ballots in Northeast Iowa’s House District 55 race — which was decided by a mere nine votes — were never postmarked and therefore cannot be counted, state officials say. But they could have been counted by now if Winneshiek County had availed itself of a safeguard the Iowa Legislature approved two years ago — an “intelligent bar code” that can verify if mailed-in ballots meet the deadline even if they are not postmarked. That safeguard is voluntary, and currently is used by only seven of Iowa’s 99 counties. It adds a few pennies to the cost of each mailed-in ballot, and takes time to set up. But there is no assurance the Postal Service will postmark each letter, and therefore no assurance that absentee votes mailed in on time will ever be counted.
The Benton County Auditor’s Office began using the bar code safeguards in 2016. Gina Elder, Benton County deputy auditor, said the bar codes — a unique one is printed on every absentee ballot return envelope — require working with the postal service. Once it’s set up, the system can provide the dates and locations when the bar codes were scanned during processing in the postal system.
In the 2018 midterm election, Benton County voters mailed in 3,369 absentee ballots. Of the four absentee ballots that did not include a postmark, three could be verified using an intelligent mail bar code.