DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Only six votes separate the Republican and Democratic candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District out of nearly 400,000 votes cast, and the secretary of state has officially declared Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks the winner.
But Democrat Rita Hart Tuesday filed a challenge to the election outcome with the U.S. House of Representatives, saying not all votes in her favor have been counted and when they are, she should be declared the winner.
That means the Democrats in control of the House could decide the outcome in what has been called the closest House race in the nation. The House has authority to judge the elections and qualifications of its members under Article I Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution.
“Today, following an initial state recount process that left thousands of ballots in question, Rita Hart will file a Notice of Contest with the U.S. House of Representatives outlining why Rita is the winner of this race,” Hart’s campaign said in a statement Tuesday.
It added, “Further, the notice explains why the House should count every legally cast ballot to guarantee fulfillment of each voter’s constitutional right. With uncounted ballots remaining, she will ask Congress to fulfill its duty and ensure all voices in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District are heard.”
Iowa Republicans protested the move, saying the voters had spoken and Democrats are trying to use a partisan political procedure to overturn the election. With Democratic control of the House shaved down to a 222-210 margin with three races undecided, the idea does not sit well with the GOP that the margin could be decided by the party in control of the House.
The Miller-Meeks transition team issued a statement Tuesday criticizing Hart for seeking to have “Washington politicians overturn the will of Iowans” in the 2nd District.
“This election has been decided by Iowans. That decision should not be thrown into Washington’s hyper-partisan atmosphere,” it said. “It is shameful that Rita Hart does not have faith in Iowans, and does not respect the decision of Iowa voters.”
Hart’s 176-page petition filed with the House on Tuesday cites two grounds for contesting the election: First, that 22 ballots were excluded and if counted, would give Hart 18 more votes, or a 9-vote lead; 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.
“As a result, whether a voter’s ballot was counted in the recount depended on the county where that ballot was cast,” the petition states, arguing the U.S. Supreme Court has found that insufficient for equal treatment, citing the 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore.
Hart asks the House to nullify Iowa’s certification of the election result, count the 22 ballots that were excluded from the official canvass, conduct a recount by hand of all 24 counties in the district, and determine that “Hart is entitled to a seat” in the House. The petition was filed by Marc Elias of Perkins Coie in Washington.
Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District in the southeast corner of the state has been represented for 14 years by Democrat David Loebsack, who is retiring at the end of this term. That set off a spirited primary and general election battle for the seat.
Republicans nominated Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, former Iowa Department of Health director and current member of the Iowa state Senate. Democrats nominated Rita Hart, a former schoolteacher and lifelong farmer. Hart was an unsuccessful candidate for Iowa lieutenant governor in 2018.
Loebsack supported Hart’s challenge, saying every Iowan who cast a ballot legally should have their voice heard.
“A lot of people have concerns about the optics, and I understand that,” he said in a recent meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board.
Democrats have criticized the Trump campaign for fighting to change the result in the presidential race, but Loebsack said the difference is that the margin in the 2nd District race is only six votes, and Hart is asking only that all the votes be counted, whereas “Trump wants to throw out ballots that have been cast.”
Republicans criticized Hart for not pursuing her challenge under state law, which would be judged by a special “court” consisting of the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court and four district court judges selected by the Supreme Court. But the law requires that the judges render a decision within a matter of days, which the Hart campaign saw as unrealistic.