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Pipe bomb found, safely detonated at Iowa polling location

Officials said they didn't believe the incident, which delayed voting for hours Tuesday, was tied to a vote on a local school spending measure.
Police investigate the scene at the Lakeside Center where a suspicious package was found on March 2, 2021, in Ankeny, Iowa.
Police investigate at Lakeside Center in Ankeny, Iowa, where a suspicious package was found Tuesday. Brian Powers / Brian Powers / The Register via USA Today Network

Voting was interrupted for about three hours Tuesday when a pipe bomb was found outside an Iowa polling location, officials said.

A couple walking their dog found the device just before 9:30 a.m. outside Lakeside Center, a multipurpose building in Ankeny, according to police and Jamie Fitzgerald, the Polk County auditor and elections commissioner.

Lakeside Center, about 15 miles north of downtown Des Moines, was one of the 14 sites in Ankeny where voters were casting their ballots on a school spending measure.

Voting at the center came to a halt while authorities worked to secure the explosive, which had a fuse and couldn't be detonated remotely, Ankeny police Sgt. Corey Schneben said.

Voters and poll workers evacuated the building, and a bomb squad from the state fire marshal's office was called to the scene.

Authorities lifted the evacuation order and voting resumed after the device was safely detonated. No arrests were immediately made.

Officials said they don't believe the explosive was tied to Tuesday's vote.

"We don't have any indication of that," Schneben said. "Usually in an election like this, you might get about a thousand people to vote in it. It wasn't, like, a big headline in the paper saying this was happening."

The explosive was made from a CPVC pipe, about 6 to 8 inches long and 1½ inches in diameter, and two caps, with explosive powder inside, said Ron Humphrey, the state fire marshal's special agent in charge.

"If someone were within 20 to 50 feet, there would have been some kind of injuries, but other than that, it wasn't that big," Humphrey said Wednesday.

It wasn't clear how long the device had been there as about a dozen voters were directed to other polling stations, Fitzgerald said.

Even though no one was injured, Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said the incident was still troubling.

"I'm deeply concerned to learn that a pipe bomb was found at a polling place in Ankeny earlier today," she said Tuesday in a tweet. "This threat to our elections in unacceptable, and those responsible should be held accountable for this attempted violence against our democracy and its citizens."

Measure AA, which asked voters whether the Ankeny Community School District should pay for various capital and infrastructure upgrades, passed 1,298 to 172.

Fitzgerald thanked the dog walkers who spotted the explosive by a light pole near the center's parking lot and told election staff.

"It's nice that everyone is seeing something and saying something," Fitzgerald said.