ELECTION 2020

Rita Hart defends appeal of 2nd District race to U.S. House

Iowa GOP decries going to Washington instead of to Iowa courts

Todd Pettys, a University of Iowa law professor, sorts through ballots Nov. 18 during a recount of votes in the 2nd Cong
Todd Pettys, a University of Iowa law professor, sorts through ballots Nov. 18 during a recount of votes in the 2nd Congressional District. The recount was held at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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By Tom Barton, Quad-City Times

Democrat Rita Hart on Thursday defended her plans to appeal the incredibly close outcome in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District race to the U.S. House, as Iowa Republicans continued to condemn the act as political.

Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner in the race, edging Hart by six votes out of more than 400,000 cast following a districtwide recount in all 24 counties.

Hart, in an interview with the Quad-City Times, argued the recount in the race was marred by errors, discrepancies and inconsistencies in how ballots were reviewed in each county, resulting in thousands of ballots with undervotes and overvotes not being examined for voter intent.

Given that, she said, she is asking the U.S. House to conduct a full review and hand recount of ballots.

“We want to make sure that every vote is counted and so we want to have a process that allows the time it takes to make sure that every vote that was cast has an opportunity to be counted,” Hart said.

Because of the time constraints on the recount, “we want to make sure that every single vote is treated fairly, consistently across the district” and that “every legally cast vote is counted correctly.”

Hart also mentioned Miller-Meeks’ comments on a recent taping of “Iowa Press,” when Miller-Meeks stated, “There were votes that were cast that were for me also that were not counted and that I did not receive.”

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A spokesman on Thursday said Miller-Meeks was referring to votes the Hart campaign successfully suppressed in her comments.

Auditors and election commissioners in Scott, Clinton and Johnson counties have said Iowa needs to change its recount process to provide more time, more assistance and more uniformity following the discrepancies and confusion that beset the recount.

Miller-Meeks, too, said legislative action may be needed “so that this process is fair and everybody understands the rules as they into the process.”

And Hart on Thursday reiterated that state law does not provide sufficient time to mount an effective challenge in Iowa courts — asking a five-judge panel to review the results and do in less than a week what 72 recount board members were unable to sufficiently do in two weeks.

Hart brushed off concerns about the message her petition may send to voters, whose confidence in the integrity of the U.S. election may be shaken by President Donald Trump’s discredited narrative telling Americans they can’t trust election outcomes.

“I don’t think there’s any comparison,” Hart said. “First of all, this is a race that is down to six votes” as opposed to the millions of vote that separate Trump and Democrat President-elect Joe Biden.

“And we’re not charging that there was any shady dealing, that there was any fraud involved here,” Hart said. “We’re simply talking about a process that did not allow a fair process to take place.”

Republican response

Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, in a call with reporters Thursday, criticized Hart for skipping “a fair hearing in the Iowa court system” and instead going to Washington “for help, preferring to have this election decided by a Washington committee crafted and controlled by coastal liberal Nancy Pelosi.”

“If Democrats are serious about ensuring the integrity of elections ... they must reject this blatant attempt” to subvert the will of Iowa voters to pick up a seat in Congress, Kaufmann said.

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Kaufmann’s comments echoed those made by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during a Thursday radio interview.

“We did an election. We had a recount,” she said. “And now, that’s not good enough. Now, they want to take it and insert politics in the process.”

Miller-Meeks, on the same radio show, said the Hart campaign knew and accepted the rules for a state recount.

“(W)hile I respect (Hart’s) ability to go through this process, I think she should have gone to the Iowa courts prior to seeking any partisan, D.C.-solution to a close race,” Miller-Meeks said.

Kaufmann, asked if he was worried about the credibility of Miller-Meeks’ win with the possibility of legally cast votes uncounted, argued throwing the race to a partisan process would further damage credibility.

“There is no assurance ... that a process run by Nancy Pelosi, who wants to build her Democratic majority, would in any way be an extension of even a fake attempt at neutrality here” to properly count every vote, he said.

Asked if Miller-Meeks should be sworn next month, Hart said that was a decision for the U.S. House to make and had not heard whether House Democrats would object.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign said all indications are that she will be sworn in Jan. 3, and she has begun the process of hiring staff and setting up district office locations.

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Hart, who also attended orientation for new members of Congress, said she, too, has been lining up staff, “doing the things that we need to do in order to be ready in case this outcome” is overturned.

“That’s a responsible thing to do,” Hart said. “I want to make sure that however this race turns out that we are ready to hit the ground running.”

Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this article.

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