Does Iowa SoS plan to suspend counting of absentee ballots at 10pm on Election Night?

At 7am on Monday, November 2nd, Linn County’s Absentee Ballot and Special Voters Precinct Board (ASVP) will start counting an estimated 80,000 absentee ballots received by the Linn County Auditor’s Office prior to election day.

In the June 2020 primary election, the ASVP counted 33,892 absentee ballots and finished the counting about 4pm on election day.

Earlier this year, I submitted a request to change the Iowa Secretary of State’s (SoS) administrative rules to allow county auditors more time to begin counting absentee ballots. A hearing was conducted by the SoS’s legal counsel, but no further action was taken on my requested rule change. Instead, the SoS asked the Legislative Council to approve a one-time directive to allow the ASVP to open absentee ballots on Saturday.

With the election day less than four days away, I thought it prudent to ask the question: What happens if my office does not complete the counting of absentee ballots by 10pm on election night? I emailed my question to the SoS – see below. The SoS’s deflection to my question is further below.

Asked if he has any concerns about absentee results not being reported on election night, Pate said, “No, I really don’t.” Why is Secretary Pate so confident? One answer might be: He’s going to suspend the counting of absentee ballots at 10:01pm.

Hopefully, all of Iowa’s 99 counties will be finished counting their absentee ballots by 10:01pm.  But what if one or more are not? What will happen? I’m not going to take that chance with my voters’ absentee ballots, and I think any auditor who ignores the “writing on the wall” below is putting their voters’ absentee ballots in jeopardy.

Posted by Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor & Commissioner of Elections


From: Miller, Joel <>
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2020 2:34 PM
To: Burhans, Heidi [SOS] <>
Subject: Request for confirmation on counting absentee ballots after 10pm on election day and beyond?

Director Burhans:

Code of Iowa 53.23 makes references to 10pm on election day and references to counting absentee ballots on election day – see

As of today, we have more than 70,000 absentee ballots to count and report on by 10pm on election day. Over six months ago, I tried to buy or rent an additional DS850; and I partnered with Johnson County in an attempt to buy/rent an additional DS450/650/850 that we could share between us.

Linn County only possesses two DS850s to count the 70K+ absentee ballots. If a DS850 breakdowns and it cannot be returned to service in a timely manner, we will use our DS200s to continue processing ballots. However, any breakdown in the process of counting absentee ballots could result in Linn County missing the 10pm times mentioned in paragraphs 1, 3a, and 3c and/or not completing the counting of absentee ballots on election day mentioned in paragraphs 1, 3a, 3c, and 6.

I presume each and every county auditor in the State shall continue counting the absentee ballots they started to count on November 2nd and/or November 3rd through 10pm and beyond, if that is what is necessary to complete the counting of the absentee ballots?

Unfortunately, it is unwise to presume anything in this election and I am now requesting confirmation from you, as the Director of Elections for the Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, that county auditors shall continue to count the absentee ballots that we started to count, until all absentee ballots to be counted on election day are counted, even if we do not complete the counting until November 4th or beyond.

Please provide your confirmation of my presumption in writing.


Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor


From: Burhans, Heidi [SOS] []
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2020 5:30 PM
To: Miller, Joel
Subject: RE: Request for confirmation on counting absentee ballots after 10pm on election day and beyond?

Auditor Miller:

It is important to note that, according to ES&S product specifications, you have the capacity to process 600 ballots per minute utilizing both of your DS850s. Based on the number of absentee ballots returned in your county, it appears tabulation will take a little over two hours. You can begin counting absentee ballots at 12:00 AM on Monday, November 2, 2020, which means there are 46 hours available for counting prior to 10:00 PM on Election Day. Opening and separating the affidavit envelopes from the secrecy sleeves tomorrow allows Monday and Tuesday to be devoted to counting ballots.

In the event that one or both of your DS850s were to experience a breakdown, you should follow the process you have developed in your Incident Response Plan.

If you need suggestions regarding how to manage the processing of your absentee ballots, we suggest reaching out to Jamie Fitzgerald or Dennis Parrott. They both are confident in their ability to process a high number of absentee ballots prior to 10:00 PM on Election Day and may have some suggestions on how to improve your ASVP Board’s internal processes. 

Additionally, you may seek counsel from your County Attorney. If they have any questions, they can consult with the Attorney General’s Office through the Prosecuting Attorney Training Council (PATC).


Heidi L. Burhans – Director of Elections

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