Rita Hart Challenges Iowa Congressional Race Results in US House

December 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
Republican State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (left) and Democrat Rita Hart (right) are facing off in a nail-biter to represent Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. As it stands now, the race could be decided by fewer than 10 votes.

WASHINGTON – Democrat Rita Hart filed a complaint with the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, challenging the election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Hart, who trails her Republican opponent, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, by only six votes, has gained votes every time a review of the election is completed in some form, said Hart campaign attorney Marc Elias in a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

Iowa’s canvassing board certified Miller-Meeks as the winner by a vote margin of 196,964 to 196,958, the closest congressional race since 1984. Her victory would narrow the Democratic House majority, which is currently 222-211 with two races uncalled.

Elias said the campaign has identified 22 lawfully-cast, but excluded ballots, which, if counted, would make Hart the winner of the contest, one of the closest congressional races in history.

“As we reviewed the ballots in recent weeks, it has become clear that there are a sufficient number of legally cast, but yet uncounted ballots to verify that Rita has won this election,” Elias said.

“In addition to counting those ballots, we are also asking for a full, fair and thorough review of all ballots cast in this race, because every Iowan deserves to know that their vote was counted and counted accurately,” he said.

The Federal Contested Elections Act was passed in 1969 by the U.S. House of Representatives specifically as a mechanism to handle elections such as this one where there are concerns about the process and a careful examination is needed.

Elias said the filing given to the clerk of the House Tuesday morning explains, in detail, what ballots are at issue, why they were rejected, whose votes they were and why they should be counted.

“The ballots in question are identified by name and by number,” he said. “In two cases, for instance, the votes were curbside ballots cast by voters living with disabilities in Scott County, Iowa and nine were absentee ballots cast by voters in Marion County.”

Elias said because the votes were not counted in the initial canvass, the local election law mandates they can’t be included in the recount.

“Everyone agrees these votes should have been counted, but because of an error by election officials, they are excluded from being counted in a recount.

“One thing we should all agree on, whether we’re on one side of the aisle or the other, is that no voter should be disenfranchised due to an election official’s honest mistake, and certainly should not be further disenfranchised because Iowa law doesn’t allow those ballots to be recounted.”
One excluded ballot, cast by a voter in Johnson County, Iowa, is lawful in all respects, Elias said, except that the voter’s signature is not in the space allotted for it.

“The voter signed it, only not in the correct space,” Elias said. “The ballot’s exclusion was simply a case of an election official not liking where it was signed and rejecting it. Again, we contend no valid ballot should be disregarded on that basis.

“In another instance, two absentee voters in Johnson County received ballots with the return envelopes already sealed,” he continued. “In each case, they carefully unsealed them to put their ballots inside, but their votes were rejected because the envelope had been opened.”

“These voters have sworn under oath as to what they say occurred with their ballots, including their having received sealed envelopes that they then had to try to reseal. Still the votes were rejected,” he said.

Elias made clear that he doesn’t believe malfeasance was involved in the rejection of the ballots, just the accumulation of simple errors by election officials.

“It is better to get it done right, then simply to ignore the fact voters have been disenfranchised, because it might be more convenient,” he said.

Elias emphasized that the law the campaign is relying on to have the House decided on the validity of ballots goes back nearly 50 years.

“This isn’t something that was just passed yesterday … and it’s important because it creates an orderly way for the outcome of a contested election to be determined,” he said.

What the Federal Contested Elections Act doesn’t do is set a clear deadline for how long the review in the House might take.

According to Elias, the Miller-Meeks camp has certain protected rights under the process, and it could be 30 days before it needs to respond to the complaint.

“There are a number of procedural avenues they could take which could dramatically alter the timeline toward resolution,” he said. “Obviously, we think the most appropriate thing for them to do would be to agree to a hand recount, at which point this could be done relatively quickly.”

In regard to how long it might take the House to act on the election, Elias offered a short answer.
“I don’t predict,” he said.

“I never predict how long a court is going to take, and I won’t predict how long the House is going to take,” he continued. “Historically, I ‘ve seen cases like this move relatively fast. On the other hand, I did a Senate recount contest in Minnesota that went on for several months.”

Republicans accused the Hart campaign of trying to steal the election, despite the fact Iowa officials have already declared Miller-Meeks the winner.

“If Rita Hart ends up with this seat the backlash in Iowa will be ferocious and voters will equate it with a stolen seat,” said Dan Smicker, a GOP county chair in the 2nd Congressional District.

“I’d hate to be a Democrat trying to run for any statewide office in Iowa for the next eight years,” he added.

Also commenting on the latest development in the contest was Bob Salera, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Congresswoman-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks was unanimously certified as the winner of the election. Rita Hart’s decision to bypass the Iowa courts and ask Nancy Pelosi to use a partisan political process to throw out the results of this election is nothing but a naked power grab,” he said.

The Miller-Meeks campaign did not immediately comment on the Hart campaign filing.

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