ELECTION 2020

Miller-Meeks' attorney looking for rejected ballots in contested Iowa U.S. House race

Rita Hart, left, answers a question during a debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn
Rita Hart, left, answers a question during a debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in as a new member of Congress last month after state officials certified the election results. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

More than a month after Democrat Rita Hart identified 22 ballots she claimed were legally cast but not counted, an attorney for Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is now looking for rejected ballots.

Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in as a new member of Congress last month after state officials certified the election results. Hart has asked the U.S. House to investigate and overturn the race that state officials say she lost to Miller-Meeks by six votes following a districtwide recount in all 24 counties.

According to an email and county election worker, an attorney for Miller-Meeks contacted the Appanoose County Auditor’s office Monday requesting copies of all rejected absentee ballot envelopes.

The Appanoose County Auditor’s office provided two absentee ballot envelopes that were rejected because they were received after noon on Nov. 9, according to an email.

Appanoose County Auditor Kelly Howard could not be reached and did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Miller-Meeks’ legal team filed a motion last month to dismiss the case, arguing that “more than a century of precedent” required that Hart exhaust all legal remedies at the state level before taking her case to Congress.

However, the 1969 federal law under which Hart is challenging the election outcome does not require exhausting all state legal challenges. The House also is not necessarily bound by past precedent.

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Regardless, Miller-Meeks’ attorney Alan Ostergren contends Hart has failed to show she is entitled to the seat, arguing her attorneys “cherry picked” ballots in her favor “that represent routine election administration issues that occur in every election in every county.” However, Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss did not include additional uncounted votes.

During a call with reporters last month, Ostergren said the legal team was not yet at the point “to come forward with specific examples.”

“Those kinds of issues would be explored” should the House Committee on Administration decide to take up and hear the merits of Hart’s contest petition, Ostergren said.

He did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

“The legal team working on behalf of Congresswoman Miller-Meeks is working on all legal and factual issues presented by Rita Hart’s effort to overturn the results of this election,” Miller-Meeks campaign spokesman Eric Woolson said. “We cannot comment further on the specifics of our strategy.”

Hart’s legal team, meanwhile, filed a response Tuesday with the House to Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss, reaffirming the need to ensure all legally cast ballots are counted.

“Ultimately, Miller-Meeks’s focus on process over people fails, both as a matter of principle and as a matter of law, and she raises no substantive objection to the counting of the 22 votes identified,” Hart attorney Marc Elias said in a statement. “These disenfranchised Iowa voters deserve to have their ballots counted.”

Had the 22 ballots been tallied, Hart, of Wheatland, argues she would have won by nine votes.

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