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 district-wide recount in all 24 counties.
Appanoose County Auditor Kelly Howard said an attorney for Miller-Meeks contacted the Appanoose County Auditor's office Monday requesting copies of all rejected absentee ballot envelopes.
Howard said her office provided Miller-Meeks' attorney copies of 23 rejected ballots. Of those ballots provided:
- Two were rejected because the absentee voters died before their ballots were counted on Election Day
- Two envelopes were not sealed. Both were replaced with new ballots, but only one of those was returned
- One ballot was rejected because the person was not an active, registered voter
- Two ballots were rejected because the voters had moved out of state
- Four were rejected because they either did not have a postmark or were received after a state deadline of noon on Nov. 9
- Three were rejected because the voter did not sign the affidavit envelope before mailing back their absentee ballot
- Six were provisional ballots that were rejected because the person voted in the wrong precinct or could not provide proof of their identity
- Three envelopes were rejected because they contained no ballot inside, and are still considered a rejected ballot event though there is no ballot that can be counted
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.
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, with Monday's request for rejected indicating her legal team may be hedging its bet should its motion to dismiss be denied.
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’ 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.