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4 recounts later, Stoltenberg claims victory in Iowa House District 81 race

The Iowa House District 81 race has taken another twist, after the latest ballot recount determined that Republican Luana Stoltenberg is the winner.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The race for Iowa House District 81 has taken another twist, after the latest ballot recount determined Republican candidate Luana Stoltenberg has defeated Democrat Craig Cooper, according to a Wednesday statement from Scott County Auditor Kerri Tompkins.

It's the second time the winner of the race has flipped after four recounts.

According to Tompkins, the recount board performed a hand count and a machine count. The hand count resulted in Stoltenberg defeating Cooper by 11 votes, as she received 5,073 votes to Cooper's 5,062 votes. 

However, the machine count deemed Cooper as the winner. 

Despite Cooper winning the machine recount, Tompkins said Iowa law dictates that the recount board can choose which results to use when certifying their report. That's why the recount board chose to certify the hand count instead of the machine count, deeming Stoltenberg the winner.

In her administrative recount report to the Iowa Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday, Tompkins cited issues with machines jamming during counting.

"At this time, it is still unclear if the original discrepancy was due to the machines or human error," Tompkins wrote in her report. "Videos have been reviewed and nothing stands out via our process from Election Day. However, we will review our processes with ES&S and other stakeholders for additional clarity. We will modify our internal practices as necessary. In addition, we have been coordinating our efforts with the Iowa SOS office and appreciate their support and guidance. Our goal is to ensure accuracy."

"This morning I congratulated State Representative-elect Luana Stoltenberg on being elected to represent Iowa House District 81. After several recounts, she had 11 more votes," Cooper said in a Facebook post. "While I’m disappointed we came up just a few votes short, I’m proud of our work and I enjoyed meeting so many people in our community. It’s clear voters are tired of politics and want lawmakers to work together to put people over politics."

Despite accepting the results of the latest recount, Cooper said in a Facebook post, "I still have grave concerns about the Republican Scott County auditor office that could not arrive at the same number of ballots cast twice. Thirty-one votes I was given in one count disappeared entirely later and made a difference in the outcome."  

He told News 8 he does not plan on initiating another recount and is heading back into retirement.

"I can't say for certain because other people probably are looking at the results themselves, but not that I know of," Cooper said. "I'll get back involved in something. Mostly volunteer work probably. I probably won't run for office again."

On election night, it appeared that Stoltenberg had won the race by 29 votes against Cooper. On Thursday, Nov. 10, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announced that an error had been discovered in the tabulation of Scott County's absentee ballots, leading to an administrative recount the next day.

The Nov. 15 recount was conducted through voting machines with poll workers and a professional machine technician present. But the recount was stopped after the machine repeatedly jammed. This prompted a Nov. 17 hand recount, followed by a machine count on Nov. 18.

The Iowa Secretary of State's website reported, as of Nov. 18, that Cooper was leading by just six votes after Scott County finished its final recount.

However, Stoltenberg challenged the results of the Nov. 18 recount, which led to this latest recount that named Stoltenberg the winner. 

"It's kind of been like this excitement, but then is it really real?" Stoltenberg said. "So I think I'll believe it when they're certified."

She said that in the future, maybe the county needs to change its absentee ballot system, to help avoid another situation like this.

"Maybe we need to have more accountability with it," Stoltenberg said. "Maybe we need to hand count absentee ballots and maybe sooner as they're coming in. Or we need to go back the way we used to do absentee ballots. If you're out of town or you're overseas, then you could vote absentee."

She plans on heading out to Des Moines next week to begin orientation and said she's excited about serving the people of Iowa.

This final recount will now to go the Scott County Board of Supervisors and state elections board for certification.

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