116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The historic election challenge in Iowa's 2nd District has come to the underwhelming conclusion everyone saw coming.
Last November, U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks won the nation's closest Congressional race in nearly half a century. After state recounts confirmed Miller-Meeks' six-vote victory, opponent Rita Hart appealed the result to her fellow Democrats in the U.S. House.
Hart this week withdrew her challenge. With just an eight-member advantage in the House, it was clear there was not enough support among Democrats in Congress to reverse the results. Overturning state-certified election results is unpopular and Democrats in tough districts were not eager to cast a vote on the matter.
The process Hart initiated was political, not legal. It depended less on the facts than on the whims of elected representatives. Like with impeachment, partisans slip in and out of legalese when it suits them, but all that really matters is whether you have the votes.
Hart chose the politicized route controlled by members of her own party, rather than a separate process prescribed by Iowa law, and she still was on track to lose again.
And even as she bowed out, Hart clung to her theory of a botched election.
'I am saddened that some Iowans' votes will not count through no fault of their own. … It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed,” Hart wrote in her announcement on Wednesday.
Hart's challenge hinged on 22 ballots, which her campaign says wrongly went uncounted and would have swung the election in her favor. Iowa Democrats' public relations campaign dubbed them 'The Uncounted 22.”
In a slew of letters to Eastern Iowa newspapers, Hart's supporters variously called to count the 22 ballots, or to count all the votes. Those are not necessarily the same thing.
The ballots identified by Hart were excluded from the official results due to 'errors” by state and county officials, Hart claimed, such as mishandled curbside ballots or rejected provisional ballots. But those are only the ballots the Hart team identified and publicly disclosed. It's likely there are other votes that were discounted for similar reasons. Counting all the votes would have required a much broader accounting than the 22 ballots cherry picked by one candidate.
'Hart makes no showing that these 22 ballots are the only ones where elections officials made ordinary decisions applying Iowa election law,” Miller-Meeks' lawyers wrote in a filing in January.
Elections are messy. That's why we have systems in place to verify results and recount ballots in narrow contests. In Iowa, the system includes bipartisan recount boards in each county as part of a process both campaigns agreed to.
To be clear, Hart's maneuver was legal and constitutional, nothing like Donald Trump's deadly fantasy about overturning last year's legitimate presidential election results. But appealing the 2nd District results to a partisan legislature nevertheless was a bad idea, helping to seed distrust in our elections.
Fallout from the 2020 elections helps cement the norm of election disputes. That's good news for attorneys at fancy law firms and political fundraisers who cash in on drawn-out contests. It's bad news for Iowa voters.
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