Iowa Congressional candidate Rita Hart files US House appeal over 6-vote loss

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 12:12 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Iowa Second Congressional District candidate Rita Hart plans to appeal Monday’s certified election results to the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, according to a statement by her campaign.

Hart, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six votes after a recount in the district’s 24 counties, making it the closest House race in decades.

If the Hart campaign filed a contest in state courts, a five-judge panel would have been created and a decision would have to be made by Dec. 8 under Iowa law.

Instead, the campaign will file a petition with the House Committee on Administration with the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969, citing the Dec. 8 deadline not allowing enough time. The campaign also cited “the need to count all votes cast in the Second District, including legally cast ballots that were not considered in the state recount process, which far outnumber the number of ballots needed to change the outcome of the election.”

In a statement, Rita Hart for Iowa Campaign Manager Zach Meunier said:

“When the recount process began more than two weeks ago, Rita Hart was down by 47 votes. Since then, more Iowans’ ballots have been counted and Rita has continuously gained ground, narrowing the gap to a mere 6 votes. While that recount considered more votes, limitations in Iowa law mean there are more legally cast votes left to be counted. With a margin this small, it is critical that we take this next step to ensure Iowans’ ballots that were legally cast are counted. In the weeks to come, we will file a petition with the House Committee on Administration requesting that these votes be counted, and we hope that Mariannette Miller-Meeks will join us in working to ensure that every Iowans’ voice is heard.”

If the U.S. House Committee on Administrations opts to move forward, the committee could conduct its own investigation and recount, before bringing the findings before the House.

According to Derek Muller, election law expert and professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, contests like this are filed in Congress with some regularity, but most don’t move forward.

“I think the question is what Congress does with this. If they’re going to really engage and sort of get deep in the weeds and recount things and perhaps engage in procedures that are going to be more favorable to the Hart campaign, time will tell and we’ll have to wait and see,” he said, “While there might be state procedures in place, it’s within a candidate’s right to go to Congress and say ‘no I’m the one actually entitled to it.’ So, that’s this dispute that’s going to arise in Congress. To file the election contest there instead of state court.”

Following the announcement by the Hart campaign, Miller-Meeks’ campaign attorney, Alan Ostergren, issued a statement on Wednesday:

“The Miller-Meeks for Congress campaign entered the recount process with a simple strategy: ensure that every Iowan who voted would be treated equally and have his or her vote counted. The campaign believed that a full machine recount throughout the district was the only way to ensure fair and equal treatment. Rita Hart has chosen to avoid Iowa’s judicial system because she knows that a fair, objective analysis of this election would show what we already know: Miller-Meeks won. Rita Hart has chosen a political process controlled by Nancy Pelosi over a legal process controlled by Iowa judges. All Iowans should be outraged by this decision.”

If the House committee decides to move forward, a full House vote would ultimately decide the results. Until a decision is made, Muller said the Miller-Meeks campaign will continue to move forward as Congresswoman-elect.

“I think it’s going to be business as usual for the Miller-Meeks campaign just with the recognition that there is this looming recount that might be happening within Congress and the determination about how the contest proceeds,” Muller said.

Both Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, who were on the five-member certification board, issued statements on Wednesday.

Gov. Reynolds said:

“Mariannette Miller-Meeks was elected by Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, and I was proud to certify that result as part of a bipartisan panel. If Rita Hart believes those results are wrong, then she had the opportunity to bring her case in an Iowa court. By heading straight to a Democratic-controlled Congress, Hart is attempting to undermine the voice of Iowans.”

Secretary Pate said:

“A bipartisan and transparent recount process in all 24 counties of the Second Congressional District confirmed Iowans elected Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Under Iowa law the deadline to contest the election is today. Iowans made their voices heard in record numbers, and in the event of a contested election they deserve to have the contest process decided by Iowa judges. The will of Iowa voters should not be overturned by partisan Washington, D.C. politicians.”

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