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Hart defends appeal of 2nd District race to US House Iowa GOP decries as 'shameful'
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US House 2nd Dist.

Hart defends appeal of 2nd District race to US House Iowa GOP decries as 'shameful'

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Democratic former Iowa state Sen. Rita Hart of Wheatland on Thursday defended her plans to file a petition with the Democratically-controlled U.S. House challenging the outcome in Iowa's close 2nd Congressional District race.

Congresswoman-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks says every legal vote was counted in tight Iowa 2nd Congressional District race, and Rita Hart had ample opportunity to appeal any discrepancies in court, rather than ask the U.S. House to intervene.

Meanwhile, Iowa Republicans continued to attack the decision as a "shameful" effort to overturn the will of Iowa voters and called on Iowa's only reelected congressional Democrat, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines, to denounce the move.

A spokesperson for Axne's office declined to comment on the race, other than to say the congresswoman and her office are still reviewing relevant laws and procedures.

Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa was declared Congresswoman-elect after state officials last week officially certified the election results. Miller-Meeks edged Hart by six votes out of more than 400,000 cast following a district-wide recount in all 24 counties, for a margin of just 0.000014%.

Miller-Meeks on Wednesday received her certificate of election from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

Hart, in an interview with the Quad-City Times, argues the recount was marred by errors, discrepancies and inconsistencies in how ballots were reviewed from county to county, resulting in thousands of ballots with recorded under and over votes not being examined for voter intent.

Given the lack of a fair and consistent recount process across the district, Hart said she will ask the 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. “We want to make sure that if you cast a vote in one county, and you cast that vote in a certain way, that it should be treated the same no matter which county it is cast in. And, because of the time constraints (to complete the recount) and, again, because of the ability of each county to do things differently, that was not the case. … 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.”

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 discrepancies and confusion that beset the U.S. House race.

Hart, too, mentioned Miller-Meeks' comments on a recent taping of “Iowa Press." Miller-Meeks stated “there were votes that were cast that were for me also that were not counted and that I did not receive.” Miller-Meeks, too, said legislative action might be needed “so that this process is fair and everybody understands the rules as they into the process."

Eric Woolson, spokesman for the Miller-Meeks campaign, said Miller-Meeks was referencing votes the Hart campaign successfully suppressed in her comments on “Iowa Press.” Woolson, too, contends the Hart campaign aggressively pushed for inconsistent treatment of ballots during the recount.

“Senator Hart cannot simply ask for one ‘do-over’ after another,” he said. “Iowans deserve to have the person they elected represent them in Congress, and that person is Mariannette Miller-Meeks.”

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

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

"I don't think there's any comparison," Hart said of the Iowa congressional race and U.S. presidential race. "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 shading 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."

Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, in a call with reporters Thursday, argued "instead of a fair hearing in the Iowa court system, Hart immediately ran 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.

In 2019, Republican Michael Bergan beat Democrat Kayla Koether for the Iowa House District 55 seat by nine votes after the Iowa House voted along party lines not to count 29 absentee ballots, which had been mailed on time but lacked postmarks.

However, the case had gone to court, which ordered a review of the ballots. Then Koether asked the House to decide the election.

"It's apples and oranges," said Kaufmann, who also drew distinctions between Republican's call for Democrats to accept the results in the Iowa 2nd District race while refusing to acknowledge the outcome in the U.S. presidential race.

"The results of 2nd congressional district race has been officially certified by a bipartisan board," Kaufmann said. "The Electoral College and Congress have not officially certified (the U.S. presidential results), and there are still legal actions that can be taken in the presidential" and Iowa 2nd Congressional District race, but Hart has "skipped over Iowa's legal system in favor of a partisan process controlled by Nancy Pelosi."

Kaufmann's comments echoed those made that same day by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during a radio interview.

"We did an election. We had a recount. We had a bipartisan (state) Executive Council (chaired by Reynolds and comprised of two Democrats and three Republicans) sign off on the election (unanimously) as per law and statute. And, now, that’s not good enough," Reynolds said. "Now, they want to take it and insert politics in the process."

Miller-Meeks, during a separate segment on the same radio show, echoed Reynolds. The Congresswoman-elect 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, too, argued the recount process in Iowa was "fair," with representatives from both campaigns and a neutral third member guiding recounts.

"The Hart campaign is grasping at straws," he said, arguing it was decisions by Rita Hart's campaign "that compressed the time" for challenging the election results in Iowa court, "not the processes outlined in Iowa code."

Asked if he was worried about the credibility of Miller-Meeks' win with the possibility of legally cast votes uncounted because they were misread by tabulation machines, Kaufmann 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 were that she would be sworn in Jan. 3, and she has begun the process of hiring staff and setting up district office locations.

Hart, who attended orientation for new members of Congress, said she too had 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 Cedar Rapids Gazette contributed.

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