Government

Republicans criticize, Democrats defend Hart's challenge in Iowa's 2nd District

Democrat bypasses state courts to take case to U.S. House

The Johnson County recount board - Todd Pettys, Emily Silliman and Derek Muller - on Nov. 18 discuss how to proceed with
The Johnson County recount board — Todd Pettys, Emily Silliman and Derek Muller — on Nov. 18 discuss how to proceed with the recount of ballots in the U.S. House District 2 race in Johnson County. They reviewed ballots at the county Administration Building in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Whether Iowa’s remarkably close 2nd Congressional District election should be ultimately resolved in an Iowa courtroom or the halls of Congress continued to be a point of political disagreement Friday.

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a the congresswoman-elect after the state earlier this week officially certified the election results, in which Meeks edged Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast.

Hart’s campaign then submitted a petition — under the Federal Contested Elections Act — to the U.S. House, asking for a full review of all ballots cast in the election — including what the Hart campaign says is thousands of ballots that were legally cast but for myriad reasons not considered during the state recount.

On Friday, Iowa Republicans criticized the Hart campaign for choosing to appeal the election results in the U.S. House — which is controlled by majority Democrats — instead of challenging the results in Iowa’s courts.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we’re taking the election out of Iowa, out of the voters of Iowa’s hands, and putting it into a partisan political process,” Miller-Meeks said Friday during this weekend’s recording of “Iowa Press” for Iowa PBS. “I think it’s unfortunate, but that is a process that is open to her to proceed.”

The district covers 24 southeast Iowa counties and includes Iowa City, Davenport and Ottumwa. The winner will succeed U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat who has represented the district for seven terms.

The Hart campaign has said the U.S. House appeal is the preferred route because Iowa state law does not allow sufficient time to review the number of ballots the Hart campaign believes should be reviewed.

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The Hart campaign said two curbside votes were not counted due to errors by poll workers, at least 30 ballots from military members were not counted due to a scanning error, and thousands of ballots were not examined consistently across the district’s counties during the recount.

“There are thousands of undervotes and overvotes, as well as 35 overseas and military ballots from Scott County, left to be examined and counted,” Hart campaign communications director Riley Kilburg said in an email.

“The U.S. House specifically passed the Federal Contested Elections Act to ensure the results in races like this are accurate,” he stated. “Following the process outlined by that law is the only way to ensure a full hand recount that will count all Iowans’ votes.

“This shouldn’t be about one political party or another. It’s about protecting every Iowan’s right to have their voice heard.”

But that is not how Iowa Republicans saw matters Friday.

Statehouse Republican leaders — Jack Whitver, the Iowa Senate Majority Leader, and Pat Grassley, the Iowa House Speaker — issued a joint statement through the Republican Party of Iowa in which they urged legislative Democrats to “take a stand against overturning the will” of Iowa’s 2nd District voters.

“On Election Night, Rita Hart lost. After mistakes were corrected, Rita Hart lost. After requesting a recount in all 24 counties and seeing that process through, Rita Hart lost,” Grassley said in the statement.

“Now, Rita Hart is unhappy with the results and has chosen to bypass our state process and is asking (Democratic U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi to intervene and negate the will of Iowa voters through a sham process. This is shameful and erodes trust in the integrity of our elections.”

Whitver said the state courts would fairly consider the matter, but Hart and national Democrats are pursuing a partisan course because they “know they’ll lose” otherwise.

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“The intention here is clear: Set up rules in their favor, regardless of what Iowa law is, and count until they get the result they want,” Whitver said in the statement. “Why should Iowans expect any fairness in a Pelosi-controlled recount kangaroo court?”

Earlier this week, Iowa’s Republican U.S. senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, issued a joint statement criticizing the Hart campaign for taking its appeal through the U.S. House and expressed their confidence in Iowa’s election systems.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst has called on Republican President Donald Trump to accept the results of the presidential election, which was decided nearly a month ago by margins exponentially larger than Iowa’s 2nd District election. The Trump campaign continues to unsuccessfully challenge election results in multiple states.

Iowa Democrats came to the Hart campaign’s defense, saying the state senator is pursuing a path prescribed by law that Congress set up for candidates to challenge an election outcome that would allow more time to scrutinize ballots than the court likely would provide.

“The U.S. House of Representatives is the only body that is constitutionally allowed to conduct a full recount of all legally cast ballots in the 2nd District, and they should do that so Iowans have full confidence in the results of this election,” said Mark Smith, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.

“Since our state laws do not allow a court-administered recount the proper time frame or ability to review all legally cast ballots, Rita is right to move forward with the election process in a way that protects the voting rights of every Iowan whose ballot has fallen through the cracks and is yet to be counted.”

Miller-Meeks said she believes the election process was followed and the state’s certified results — and her six-vote victory — should stand.

“No question it’s an incredibly close contest. If you had asked my preference, I would have rather won by 600 or 6,000 votes. But we are where we are here,” Miller-Meeks said on Iowa PBS. “The process was followed.

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“We have an election process, there was a count, there was additional counts, there was an official recount, and, throughout that process, I have remained ahead and I was certified the winner of this contest.”

TO WATCH

• What: Mariannette Miller-Meeks on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS; 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World

• Online: iowapbs.org/iowapress

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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