The special election May 1 on whether the city of Decorah should be authorized to pursue a municipal electric utility (MEU) has been defeated by three votes.
Following a recount Friday morning, two more “yes” votes were added, bringing the final total for the referendum to 1,385 “no” votes to 1,382 “yes” votes. Alliant Energy is the city’s current electrical provider. A citizens group, Decorah Power, asked the city to explore the possibility of a MEU.
“The recount board found the two ballots originally recorded as an under vote and an over vote and determined the voters’ intent to be yes on both of those ballots, thereby increasing the yes vote by two from the canvass held at Monday’s (May 7) Board of Supervisors’ meeting,” Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines said after the recount.
At the May 7 canvass, one additional “no” vote was counted and at that point, the measure failed by a vote of 1,385 to 1,380.
During the canvass, Steines explained one ballot from the election was an over vote – with both the “yes” and “no” circles filled in -- and there was one under vote – with no circles filled in. The recount board had the authority to attempt to judge the voter’s intent in each case.
Fifty-one percent of Decorah’s registered voters turned out for the May 1 MEU election – a large turnout for a city election, according to Steines.
A petition signed by 40 Decorah residents calling for the recount was filed in the Winneshiek County Auditor’s office early last week.
The recount board consisted of three members. The petitioners appointed Carly Hayden Foster to serve on the board, Steines appointed Adrian Walter (one of the precinct election officials) and Walter and Foster appointed Mark Albers as the third member.
Since the MEU was defeated, the matter cannot be brought back for a vote for another four years.
“On behalf of the 17 local employees who serve the Decorah area, Alliant Energy thanks the record number of voters who participated in this election. The results will allow us to continue serving the community with the safe, reliable and increasingly clean energy our customers have come to expect,” said Alliant spokesperson Mike Wagner.

‘Incredibly close’
The “incredibly close” vote is a testament to the work of Decorah Power volunteers and supporters, Decorah Power volunteer Emily Neal said after the recount.
“Three votes…It’s really quite honestly hard to grasp an election this close, virtually a tie. There are several important take aways, of course, the first is that we were up against enormous odds,” she said
“We certainly hope that an election this close raises awareness on multiple levels. We hope individuals recognize the importance of participating in the democratic processes and doing so by making informed decisions based on evidence and common sense.
“We hope that the Iowa Utilities Board and Iowa lawmakers are paying attention to what happened here. If the role of the Iowa Utilities Board is indeed to look out for the consumers’ best interest, then the process for municipalizing needs serious reconsideration. The state has given investor-owned utilities a monopoly status in regulated territories, with an offer to communities a chance to municipalize if they can get to the Iowa Utilities Board. However, in order to get there, communities have to go against the very utility that controls their service territory and who will fight them at every step of the way,” Neal said.
“But, perhaps the greatest take away from this election, more important than the outcome of this vote, is how passionate and interested our community can be. Voter turnout was huge. We could choose to look at this vote as a community divided or we can choose to see a highly engaged and passionate community. We prefer to see the latter and each of us involved in Decorah Power are committed to finding ways for our engaged and passionate community to build common values that will move us forward together to a more community-driven resilient future.”