ELECTION 2020

4 voters claim their ballots for Rita Hart went uncounted

Their affidavits are part of a challenge in the close election

Rita Hart
Rita Hart
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Four voters in Johnson and Scott counties say in affidavits they took the necessary steps to cast votes in the Nov. 3 election for Democrat Rita Hart, but assert their ballots were rejected because of errors by election workers.

Hart’s campaign held a Zoom call Thursday with the voters who asked their votes for Hart to be counted in the contested 2nd Congressional District race in southeast Iowa.

The affidavits were included as part of a petition Hart filed last week asking the U.S. House to count those votes, conduct a uniform hand recount of all ballots and overturn the state’s certified election results that have Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks winning by six votes.

Hart and her attorneys argue 22 ballots were wrongly excluded during the initial canvass of votes and a subsequent recount. Had they been tallied, Hart, of Wheatland, argues she would have gained 18 more votes to Miller-Meeks’ three additional votes — enough to win the race. One excluded ballot was registered as an under vote — not tallying a vote for either candidate.

Hart is not alleging voter fraud but rather that all legal votes were not counted. Following a recount of all 24 counties in the district, Miller-Meeks, of Ottumwa, was certified by a bipartisan state panel as the winner by just the handful of votes out of over 400,000.

She is expected to be provisionally sworn in Sunday with the new Congress as Hart challenges the outcome.

The pair ran to replace Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, who leaves office after serving seven terms. Loebsack has called on the House to consider Hart’s challenge in the tightest federal race in the nation and one of closest congressional races in a century.

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Scott County voter Jo Donna Loetz said she voted for Hart and handed her absentee ballot to a Scott County election official before Election Day — but accidentally ripped the envelope when sealing her ballot.

The worker “looked at it and said, ‘This might not be reliable,’” Loetz said. But the worker assured her she would be notified if the ballot was rejected “and I would still have a chance to vote,” Loetz said.

She then received a call on Election Day that her ballot would not be counted, but she was uncertain of the source of the call. She said she went to her precinct and was reassured there by a poll worker, who after conferring with the county auditor’s office, said that her ballot indeed would be counted.

“I thought everything was good, until (folks from the Hart campaign) showed up at my door to tell me my ballot had not been received,” Loetz said. “I want my vote to be counted. I have voted ever since I have been 18 years old, and I think it’s my right to do that. ... And I think something should be done.”

Johnson County voters Trajae Lackland, Michael Overholt and Sadie Rhomberg said their absentee ballots also were rejected by election workers for not being properly sealed, even though they specifically remember sealing them, according to their affidavits.

All three said they marked their own ballots, placed the ballots in the affidavit envelope, sealed it and returned the sealed envelopes to their county auditor by a state deadline.

Lackland and Overholt noted glue on the envelope was unusually dry when they licked and sealed it. Both said they voted early and in person at their absentee site.

“I want my vote to count,” Overholt said. “I did it legally. ... For someone who made the effort and went the extra mile to make sure to get a vote in, I don’t want my vote to be discounted just because the glue didn’t stick on an internal envelope.”

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Rhomberg, a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the return envelope was already sealed when she received her absentee ballot materials in the mail, likely due to the ballot being exposed to rain or moisture while in transit. Rhomberg said she carefully unsealed the ballot, placed her completed ballot in the envelope and resealed the envelope using tape.

She said her mother called the Johnson County Auditor’s Office and was told sealing the ballot with tape would not impact whether her ballot was counted. Despite that assurance, county election officials rejected Rhomberg’s ballot for not being properly sealed, she said.

Additionally, Hart says thousands of ballots with under votes and over votes were not examined for voter intent due to inconsistencies in how votes were reviewed from county to county.

Miller-Meeks and Republicans have blasted Hart for bypassing Iowa courts and subjecting the outcome of the race to a process in the House controlled by Democrats.

Hart contends state law does not provide sufficient time to challenge the results and review thousands of ballots in Iowa court, and that the House should count every legally cast ballot to guarantee fulfillment of each voter’s rights.

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