Freshman Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks officially called on Congress to "follow precedent" and dismiss Democrat Rita Hart’s petition challenging the razor-thin outcome in the contested race for southeast Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.
Attorneys for Miller-Meeks filed a motion Thursday with the Democratically-controlled U.S. House asking it to throw out Hart’s petition for choosing to bypass Iowa courts, and let the state’s certified results stand.
Attorney Alan Ostergren argues House precedent for at least the past century has required contestants exhaust all available remedies under state law before appealing to Congress to overturn the state's results.
However, the 1969 federal law under which Hart is challenging the election outcome does not require Hart to have exhausted all state legal challenges. The House also has considerable latitude in setting the rules for reviewing the race and is not necessarily bound by past precedent.
Regardless, 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."
"Rita Hart should have raised her claims before a neutral panel of Iowa judges rather than before a political process controlled by her own party,” Ostergren said in a statement. "Rita Hart was clearly afraid of this process. Her actions show that she knew her weak case would never have persuaded judges. She chose politics over law. She was wrong to do so and did a disservice to every Iowan who voted in this election. The House of Representatives should follow their own precedents and dismiss her contest."
Hart has argued that Iowa law does not provide sufficient time to mount an effective challenge in Iowa court, asking a five-judge panel to review thousands of ballots and do in eight days what 72 recount board members were unable to do sufficiently in two weeks.
There is no deadline for the House to resolve Hart's election contest. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the express authority to judge the "elections and returns" of its members.
Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in early this month as a new member of Congress after defeating Hart by six votes out of more than 400,000 cast in one of closest congressional races in the past century and the tightest federal race in decades.
Hart’s campaign has petitioned the Committee on House Administration to review the results, claiming 22 ballots were legally cast but not counted in the results, including those cast by Scott County residents.
Had the ballots 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 undervote, not tallying a vote for either candidate.
Hart's petitions includes sworn affidavits from voters who say they took all necessary steps to cast their votes in the Nov. 3 election for Hart but claim their ballots were rejected because of errors by election workers.
The petition asks the U.S. House to count those votes and conduct a uniform hand recount of all ballots. Her petition alleges thousands of ballots with recorded undervotes and overvotes were not examined for voter intent, because of a "haphazard" recount that was marred by discrepancies and inconsistencies in how ballots were reviewed from county to county, using procedures her attorney argues did not follow Iowa law. Hart and her attorney said that raises the likelihood of legally cast votes uncounted because they were misread by high-speed scanners.
“As I have said from the beginning of this entire process, nothing is more important than ensuring every Iowan has their vote counted," Hart said in a statement Thursday. "Mariannette Miller-Meeks herself has acknowledged that there are votes yet to be counted, which makes her attempt to stop votes from being counted even more disappointing. It is crucial to me that this bipartisan review by the U.S. House is fair, and I hope our leaders will move swiftly to address this contest and ensure all votes are counted. Iowans deserve to know that the candidate who earned the most votes represents them."
Ostergren contends Hart had plenty of time to present her case to a neutral panel of Iowa judges, and that eight days served as plenty of time to review the 22 ballots at the center of her election challenge.
He and Miller-Meeks have insisted every legal vote was counted, with procedures in place, both before the election and immediately after, to verify the legality of votes and to fix any mistakes.
"This process involves Iowa county auditors, bipartisan panels of election workers, and the opportunity of political parties and campaigns to observe the process," Ostergren said in a previous statement, adding the recount process was done in a "bipartisan and transparent" manner that included input and participation by the Hart campaign.
Iowa law provides broad discretion to recount boards, consisting of two members appointed by each campaign and a third member mutually chosen, to decide the mechanics of a recount.
Some counties did complete hand recounts, some did complete machine recounts and some, including Scott County, did a hybrid version of both.
"This process confirmed that Congresswoman-elect Miller-Meeks won this race," Ostergren previously said.
Committee on House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has said the committee will carefully review both motions.
The committee could decide to dismiss the petition; proceed based on pleadings, testimony and evidence introduced; conduct a preliminary investigation or a limited recount; or order a full-scale investigation, including a recount.
Should the committee decide to hear a petition, it could enpanel a task force to investigate the election. Parties would have up to 70 days to take testimony by deposition to be presented as evidence.
After completing its investigation, the committee would make a recommendation to the full House — subject to simple-majority approval — on which candidate should fill the seat, or find that neither are entitled to the seat and declare a vacancy.
Hart's petition puts House Democrats in a difficult position after having chastised Republicans for objecting to certifying state election results in the presidential race in key battleground states. Democrats argue those efforts emboldened false claims of widespread election fraud that sowed doubt as to the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's victory and fueled a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Democrats reportedly are hesitant to vote on the House floor to overturn the state's certified election results in the Iowa 2nd District race.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation representing central and southwest Iowa's 3rd District, has said she supports Hart's petition.
“It is critical that every Iowan’s voice is heard in this election — and to that end, Rita Hart has Constitutional and legal grounds to pursue that goal at the federal level," Axne said in statement last month in response to Hart's petition. "I support a transparent process that ensures every properly-cast vote in this contest is counted. It is the only way to give Iowa voters full faith and confidence in the outcome of this historically-close election.”