Dear Editor:

As many are aware, the race for House District 55 remains unsettled after County Auditor Ben Steines refused to count 33 absentee ballots from the November 6 election because of no official postal service postmark. After Kayla Koether filed a legal challenge to that decision, a judge ordered that the ballots envelopes’ intelligent mail barcodes be examined by the postal service, after which it was officially determined that 29 of those ballots were indeed legally cast on time. 

However Secretary of State Paul Pate would not permit Steines to count those 29 votes and proceeded with certifying Mike Bergen as the winner by nine votes out of nearly 14,000 cast.

Kayla has now filed an official contest of the race, which will be taken up by the Iowa House of Representatives when it convenes on January 14. Considering the House is controlled by a majority of Republicans and Kayla is a Democrat, it’s reasonable to question whether she will get a fair hearing.

Some have charged that Kayla’s effort is simply sour grapes, or that this is somehow an attempt to rewrite the law, etc. My first response to such accusations would be to ask, “Would you hold that same opinion if Mike Bergen had lost by 9 votes and was now seeking to have 29 uncounted votes counted?”

Those of us who have volunteered many hours for her 2018 campaign can state unequivocally that Kayla’s effort to have these votes counted are 100 percent in the spirit of preserving our democracy. The possibility that it could change the outcome of the election is remote at best. What is far more important is that 29 individuals who voted according to the law will have their voting rights honored. If her contest forces the legislature to address the inconsistency in Iowa’s voting laws so this doesn’t happen again, that, too, would be a positive outcome. One must wonder if it occurred in any of Iowa’s other 99 counties, except that we simply didn’t hear about in elections with much wider margins.

It’s also worth putting this issue in the larger context of the many stories that have emerged from around the country (Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and North Carolina to name a few) since the November 6 election. It has become evident that the Republican party went to extraordinary measures to not only suppress the vote in some states but, since the election, has also passed post-election legislation to restrict power from incoming Democrats (the same power the GOP previously enjoyed) or to overturn citizen ballot initiatives, all in an attempt to hold onto power in spite of voters choosing otherwise.

All of this demonstrates the fragility of our democracy. When the foundation of that democracy - the right to vote or the decision by that vote - is not honored by one party, America as we know it teeters dangerously on the edge. No matter which party does it, when one has to cheat to win, we all lose. American voters, no matter the party affiliation, must stand up for fairness, transparency, and accountability. Our Democratic principles demand no less of us. That is what Kayla is doing in contesting the November 6 election. Because it’s the right thing to do.

As an elected incumbent to the Iowa legislature, Mike Bergen, is also a participant and a recipient of this thing called “democracy.” Call me crazy, but I believe he too should speak out on its behalf. I would like to hear him say something similar to the following:

“The turmoil that has surrounded the outcome of the race in House District 55 was the culmination of an unfortunate set of circumstances. Yes, on December 3 Secretary of State Paul Pate certified me as the winner over Kayla Keother by a margin of only nine votes. Yes, I am happy that I won a very tough race with an equally tough opponent. The fact remains, however, that at least 29 individuals in Winneshiek County did not have their vote counted, through no fault of their own. As a champion of our democratic and Iowa values, I cannot celebrate this victory in good conscious. Even though I will take my seat in the Iowa House of Representatives when the 2019 session convenes this month, as requested by Ms. Koether in her official filing to contest the election, I am publicly announcing my support to have those 29 votes counted. We all win when our democratic principles are honored.”

Tim Wagner

Decorah