An Iowa Republican congresswoman said members of the House should reject her Democratic opponent’s challenge to the November race that was decided by just six votes.
DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Iowa Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Thursday urged the U.S. House of Representatives to dismiss a challenge to her narrow November election victory filed in the chamber last month by her opponent.
The Republican lawmaker said the House has for more than a century required that election challenges be made at the state level first, which did not happen in this case.
“Essentially the House of Representatives is the forum of last resort, not the first” for resolving disputed election results, Miller-Meeks’ attorney Alan Ostergren said in a news conference Thursday.
He said Miller-Meeks’ Democratic opponent Rita Hart should have availed herself of a procedure in Iowa law created to resolve election disputes before a five-judge panel.
Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pending resolution of Hart’s challenge. If the election challenge is not dismissed outright, as Miller-Meeks asks, Democrats who control the House could decide the outcome of the challenged race under its powers in Article I Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution.
Just six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast separated Miller-Meeks from Hart in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Iowa’s secretary of state officially declared Miller-Meeks the winner after a recount was conducted last fall, but Hart filed a challenge to the outcome with the U.S. House, saying not all votes in her favor have been counted and when they are, she should be declared the winner.
On Thursday, Miller-Meeks’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the Hart challenge with the Clerk of the House.
“Hart claims there are votes that should have been counted . . . and she asks the House of Representatives to conduct another recount under different rules and procedures than the first two counts conducted in this race, simply because she does not like how the first two counts turned out,” the motion states. “Those claims should be rejected summarily and this contest dismissed.”
Miller-Meeks argues that Hart should have first pursued her challenge under Iowa law, which would have been heard by a five-member “contest court” consisting of the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court and four state district court judges appointed by the chief justice.
“If Hart wanted to challenge the legality of specific ballots or make legal arguments about the sufficiency of the recount, then she should have brought those claims before the Iowa contest court,” the motion to dismiss states. “This is precisely what Iowa’s contest court is designed for. Indeed, the House of Representatives has said over and over — and for good reason — that it will not intervene in an election if the losing party has not first exhausted all state remedies.”
Hart’s December petition filed with the House cited two grounds for contesting the election: First, that 22 ballots were excluded and if counted, would give Hart 18 more votes and the win; and second, that the recounts conducted by three-member recount boards in all 24 counties in the district were not done the same way in all counties, as some examined challenged ballots by hand but others did not.
Hart has argued that she avoided Iowa’s state process for contesting an election because that process did not allow enough time to make a decision.
In response, Ostergren said at Thursday’s news conference that there is no reason why the contest court could not have considered those 22 ballots within the time allotted by state law, or about one week.
“As a former prosecutor,” he said, “we could get a first-degree murder trial done in that amount of time.”
As for why the recount process was done differently in some counties than others, Ostergren said the Hart campaign asked for a hand recount in some counties but machine recounts in others.
“They were trying to cherry-pick ballots in the counties they thought were favorable to them,” he said.
Neither the Hart campaign nor the Iowa Democratic Party responded to requests for comment Thursday.