Hand recount flips Iowa legislative race to Republican candidate in razor-thin victory

The second recount in a close Iowa House race found the Republican candidate won by 11 votes, flipping the result from an initial recount that showed a Democrat leading.

But the result doesn't come without controversy.

Republican Luana Stoltenberg won election to House District 81, getting 5,073 votes to 5,062 to Democrat Craig Cooper, according to the most recent recount approved by a three-member board.

Republican Luana Stoltenberg won election to Iowa House District 81 by 11 votes in the 2022 midterms.
Republican Luana Stoltenberg won election to Iowa House District 81 by 11 votes in the 2022 midterms.

"Thank you so much to everyone in District 81 for the honor of representing you in the Iowa House!" Stoltenberg wrote in a Thursday Facebook post. "I want to hear what is important to you and how I can serve you these next couple years."

Cooper conceded to Stoltenberg on Wednesday. He thanked his supporters and accepted the second recount results but expressed concern about the recounting process.

"A year of campaigning, walking many miles of neighborhoods and meeting residents, can be exhausting and oddly lonely but I don't regret the experience," Cooper wrote.

Cooper said he has "grave concerns" that the Scott County auditor's initial recount differed significantly from the second recount, which was conducted by a three-member board selected by the candidates. Cooper chose former Scott County Attorney Bill Davis, a Democrat, to sit on the board.

Stoltenberg chose former Scott County Supervisor Diane Holst, a Republican. They agreed on the third member, former Democratic Scott County Supervisor Jim Hancock.

That initial recount, which concluded Nov. 18, showed Cooper leading by six votes. Both candidates also had more votes in the auditor's count — Cooper had 31 additional votes, and Stoltenberg had 14.

"Thirty-one votes I was given in one count disappeared entirely later and made a difference in the outcome," Cooper wrote in a post on his campaign's Facebook page.

Board chooses hand recount over machine recount, auditor says

Scott County Auditor Kerri Tompkins said that the three-member board conducted both a machine count and a hand count of the ballots. Tompkins said the board's machine count was "very similar" to the auditor's recount and it confirmed the total number of ballots.

The board's machine recount also showed that Cooper was the winner, according to Tompkins, although the numbers changed "a little bit."

However, Tompkins said the board then conducted a hand count of the ballots, using a different process than the auditor had used in the initial recount. That hand count gave Stoltenberg the lead.

The board chose to use that hand recount as the official tally.

"The duty rests on the recount board to determine what information they are going to place in their report," Tompkins said. "So they can choose which results they want to go with."

Secretary of state says he's good with the decision

The members of the board could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday afternoon. Kevin Hall, spokesperson for the Iowa Secretary of State, did not address the board's counting procedure in a Friday statement.

"The bipartisan recount board members, which include two Democrats and one Republican, have publicly stated they are confident in the results of their recount and we thank them for their efforts," Hall wrote.

The Quad City Times reported Wednesday that the board's discrepancy came from absentee ballots. The board used an elections machine and checked totals by hand, and ultimately found 45 fewer absentee ballots in the district than the auditor reported.

House District 81 covers the northwest corner of Davenport. Stoltenberg's victory gives Republicans an even heftier majority in the Iowa House, with 64 seats to Democrats' 36.

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at kakin@registermedia.com or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Republican Luana Stoltenberg wins Iowa seat after hand recount