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Democrat Rita Hart files House challenge to six-vote Iowa loss

Republican Miller-Meeks slams challenge, says ‘Iowans have spoken’

Democrat Rita Hart is formally challenging the results of Iowa's 2nd District with the U.S. House.
Democrat Rita Hart is formally challenging the results of Iowa's 2nd District with the U.S. House. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrat Rita Hart has followed through on her pledge to challenge the close results in Iowa’s 2nd District with the House, filing a “notice of contest” Tuesday.

On Nov. 30, Iowa election officials certified the results in the open 2nd District contest showing GOP state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks with a six-vote lead after a recount. In her filing with the House, Hart identifies 22 ballots that her campaign described as “legally cast but unlawfully excluded” from the recount. If those ballots were counted, Hart would win by nine votes.

“As I have said from the beginning of this entire process, nothing is more important than ensuring every Iowan has their vote counted,” Hart said in a statement. “Everyone has acknowledged that there are uncounted votes left and after reviewing those ballots and making sure they are counted, it will be clear that I have won this election.”

Miller-Meeks slammed Hart’s move as “shameful” on Twitter, saying in a video that Hart “wants Washington politicians to override the will of Iowa voters and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowa voters.”

“I won the election decided by nearly 400,000 Iowans but Sen. Hart now wants a process run by one Californian, Nancy Pelosi, and decided in Washington’s hyper-partisan, dysfunctional atmosphere and not according to Iowa law,” Miller-Meeks said. “Iowans have spoken. Rita Hart should listen.”

It is not clear if Democrats, who still will control the House next year, will allow Miller-Meeks to be seated when the 117th Congress convenes on Jan. 3. Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hart campaign spokesman Riley Kilburg told reporters Tuesday that Hart has not been in contact with Pelosi or Democratic leaders about whether Miller-Meeks will be seated on Jan. 3.

“We believe that the most important thing on this is that you seat the person who received the most number of votes,” Kilburg said.

Hart’s filing triggers a review by the House Administration Committee, which would have a majority of Democrats in the next Congress. The panel will consider the objection and make a report to the full House, which has to approve any recommendation to seat Hart or Miller-Meeks — or neither. Miller-Meeks will be able to respond and both sides can take sworn depositions and subpoena witnesses and documents.

Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., issued a statement that the notice has been received and is being reviewed, but made no mention about what will happen Jan. 3 when new members are sworn in.

“Under the Federal Contested Election Act, the Miller-Meeks campaign has 30 days to answer or file a motion to dismiss the contest,” Lofgren said. “The Committee intends to closely review filings from both campaigns, as the law requires.”

Most contested elections that have come before the House in the last century have been dismissed, according to the Congressional Research Service. From 1933 to 2009, the House considered 107 contested election cases. In one instance, it declared a vacancy, and in three cases, it seated the candidate who contested the results. 

The most recent instance of the House reversing the initial outcome of an election was more than three decades ago, in a 1985 contest for what was known as Indiana’s “Bloody 8th.” After the 1984 elections, state officials certified the 8th District results showing Republican Rick McIntyre had defeated Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey by just 34 votes. 

McCloskey contested the election, and the House, which was controlled by Democrats at the time, initially decided not to seat either candidate. The House Administration Committee assembled a task force to investigate, and conducted its own recount which resulted in a four-vote lead for McCloskey, who was then sworn into office.

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