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Iowa District 2 Election Saga Continues

January 27, 2021 by Sara Wilkerson
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.

In a Monday webinar hosted by Iowa Democrat Rita Hart, Hart’s attorney Marc Elias disputed Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ recent motion of dismissal for Hart’s contention with the state’s 2nd Congressional District election results.  

Hart, who ran for the House of Representatives against Miller-Meeks, lost the November election by six votes, making the Iowa contest one of the most closely contested federal races in the 2020 cycle.  

Back in December, Hart filed a complaint of contention for the race to the House under the Federal Contested Elections Act, a 1969 law that permits the House to investigate possible irregularities in Congressional elections. 

As of last week, Miller-Meeks filed a motion of dismissal in response to Hart’s contention. 

According to Miller-Meeks’ dismissal, the Republican claims that Hart did not exhaust state remedies in her dispute with the electoral results in accordance with the law and believes that Hart deliberately “skipped over Iowa’s court system.” 

“If losing candidates can shield their claims from independent judges when the House is controlled by their party, then they will,” stated Miller-Meeks brief.  

“A parade of contests will in the future proceed here any time there’s a close election and the losing candidate’s party holds the majority in the House.

“The effect of this gamesmanship will be to severely undermine the public’s confidence in our election process,” argued Miller-Meeks’ attorney, Alan Ostergren. 

In a Monday webinar conference with reporters, Elias disputed Ostergren’s argument by stating that exhaustion of state remedies, such as ballot recounts and Iowa state court hearings, are not required under the FCEA statute

Elias went on to say that in the Miller-Meeks brief, her team cited examples of precedents that pre-date the FCEA and that do not apply exhaustion as a requirement for the House.

“There are times where Congress will pass a law and say as a jurisdictional matter ‘In order to bring a claim, you have to exhaust other remedies first’ and Congress chose not to do that in the context of the FCEA. 

“So the statute doesn’t require exhaustion,” stated Elias, “and that’s presumably why when they cite their precedent, they do not cite any precedents for a requirement of exhaustion under the FCEA.  

“In fact,” he continued, “the one interesting omission from their brief is the most recent or the most significant FCEA case in recent times, which was Dornan versus Sanchez.” 

Elias elaborated on the omission by explaining that in Dornan v. Sanchez, the doctrine of exhaustion was invoked by Democratic California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to the then Republican-majority House and that the doctrine was “rejected for grounds of halting the contest.” 

“It’s interesting that they chose not to cite Dornan v. Sanchez because it is of course a [FCEA] case and it is the most recent time that exhaustion has come up in the context of the Federal Contested Elections Act.

“So, there is no requirement for exhaustion under the federal statute that we’re proceeding under,” reiterated Elias.  

In addition to discussing Miller-Meeks’ doctrine of exhaustion, Elias told reporters that according to the brief, she does not dispute the legality of the 22 ballots that were allegedly not counted during the election, and which were part of Hart’s brief of contention to the House. 

However, Elias continued saying that Miller-Meeks argues that the ballots should not be counted since Hart’s team cannot confirm if these ballots were the only ballots not included in the initial ballot canvas. 

“That [disenfranchisement] is frankly a preposterous proposition and it finds no support in contest law,” commented Elias. 

“So the 22 votes from our standpoint look to be conceded… that they should count,” Elias concluded. “And if that’s the case, then I’m very confident that after those 22 votes are counted that Rita Hart will be sworn in as the next Congresswoman from Iowa 2.” 

When asked by reporters about the next steps in the case’s proceedings, Elias said he expects that the case will be heard in the House once the House’s subcommittees are assigned, including the Committee on House Administration, which will determine if the case will be dismissed or proceed.  

Meanwhile, as Miller-Meeks is provisionally placed in the 117th Congress until the case is resolved, the Congresswoman’s former state senate seat was up for grabs in a special election held Tuesday. The Republican candidate, Adrian Dickey, won the seat in the Iowa state Senate with 55.3% to Democrat Mary Stewart’s 44.7%.

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