Uncalled House Race in Iowa Grows Ever Tighter

November 25, 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.

Throughout the 2020 election cycle a persistent narrative was just how divided the United States has become. But an as-yet uncalled House race in Iowa is taking the concept of a nation equally divided between Republicans and Democrats to a whole new level.

Since Monday, the miniscule margin separating Republican State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District has continued to narrow as counties complete their recounts and report them to the Secretary of State’s office.

As of midnight Tuesday, Miller-Meeks held just a 35-vote lead out of 394,431 votes cast, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, in what could become a single-digit race by the time the counting is done.

In fact, because none of the four counties Hart carried on election night — Clinton, Jefferson, Johnson, and Scott — had reported their new totals as of last night, some are projecting the Democrat could easily pull off a come from behind victory.

Anecdotally, election officials in those counties, relying on unofficial results, say Hart has picked up the lion’s share of “new” votes they’ve identified.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to certify its results later today.

In Scott County, the elections officials reconvened Tuesday to recount a single precinct after a math error was found and corrected. The board later certified its results, saying Hart had picked up more than two dozen additional votes.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign had criticized the process used by the recount board in Scott County, arguing it is not allowed under state law.

That process involved conducting a machine recount, and then recounting ballots by hand that could not be read. Miller-Meeks’ campaign maintained Iowa law requires either a machine or a hand recount, but not both.

Hart’s campaign responded by saying recount boards — panels consisting of one representative from each campaign and one neutral member — have discretion to decide how to proceed.

On Wednesday morning, Zach Meunier, Hart’s campaign manager, said in a statement that when the recount process began, his candidate was down a mere 47 votes.

“Now, as more Iowans’ voices have been heard, the count has narrowed even further with Rita netting 26 votes in Scott County alone,” he said. “Yesterday, Scott County’s bipartisan recount board made a unanimous decision to certify the totals that they spent the last week working diligently on, to ensure that all legal votes cast for both Rita Hart and Mariannette Miller-Meeks were properly counted. 

“As we have said from the beginning of the process, the most important thing is that Iowans’ voices are heard and their votes counted fairly. The bipartisan recount in Scott County – which was conducted using a procedure demanded by Miller-Meeks’ designee — met that mark.”

In Clinton County, the recount board still has more than 5,000 absentee ballots to count, but will not reconvene until Saturday to finish its count, according to County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Eric Van Lancker.

“We have every belief that they will finish on Saturday after a few hours of work,” he told The Well News in an email.

The two campaigns clashed on Tuesday over recount proceedings in Jasper County, which Miller-Meeks appeared to win by more than 3,000 votes on election night.

The Republican is disputing the recount after a tabulating machine broke down shortly after the proceedings began.

“The Hart campaign has reached a new low by wanting to use numbers from a broken machine,” the Miller-Meeks campaign said in a written statement. “When the Jasper County recount board met they agreed to a machine recount. But the optical-scan machine broke down before it could be started. When the technician replaced the broken parts, the machine could not read the ballots reliably.

“Remember, this county has already been through a recount ordered by the secretary of state. That machine count matched the corrected numbers in the certified results. Now, when the machine breaks down, the Hart campaign thinks they won some kind of victory,” the statement said.

The Hart team responded by saying it was Miller-Meeks’ team that urged the county to conduct a machine recount in the first place, and that after the machine broke, it was the campaign’s designee to the board who “insisted on waiting for the machine to be repaired.”

“Now, a machine recount of the absentee ballots has been completed with the repaired machine and Rita Hart has netted 9 votes,” the Hart campaign statement said.

“Unfortunately, as is quickly becoming a pattern across multiple counties including Scott County, the Miller-Meeks Campaign is unwilling to play by the rules they sought at the beginning of the recount, and now disputes the machine recount that was conducted at their urging. The point of a recount is to get a final, correct vote total, not recount and recount until one candidate is satisfied with the outcome. The Miller-Meeks campaign can’t count the ballots again or introduce some new process simply because the margin narrowed,” the statement said. 

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