Iowa Democrat Gives Up Fight to Overturn Six-Vote Loss in House Race

Democrat Rita Hart, who had argued that not all votes were counted in the Iowa House race decided by just six votes, yielded to intense criticism from congressional Republicans.

Rita Hart answers a question during a debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last October. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette via AP, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Rita Hart announced Wednesday that she is dropping her challenge to the razor-thin result of the November 2020 election in the state’s 2nd District.

Hart in December filed a challenge to the election outcome with the U.S. House of Representatives, arguing not all votes in her favor had been counted. The House has authority to judge the elections and qualifications of its members under Article I Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution.

But the prospect that the Democrats who control the House could decide the outcome in what has been called one of the closest federal elections in U.S. history was met with intense and growing criticism from Republicans, in Iowa and nationally, that Hart was attempting the “steal’ the election.

On Wednesday, Hart threw in the towel.

“After many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest, I have made the decision to withdraw my contest before the House Committee on Administration,” she said in a statement. “Since Election Day, and throughout this entire process, my mission has been about ensuring the voices of Iowans who followed the law are not silenced. I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own. The work of ensuring it does not happen again will continue beyond this campaign.”

A spokesman for Hart’s Republican opponent and victor in the race, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Miller-Meeks’ office previously criticized 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,” her office said in an earlier statement. “It is shameful that Rita Hart does not have faith in Iowans, and does not respect the decision of Iowa voters.”

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.

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, or a nine-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.

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” Hart said Wednesday. “It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.”

She went on to wish Miller-Meeks the best as she serves the people of the 2nd District. Miller-Meeks is an ophthalmologist and former Iowa Department of Health director.

Hart, a former schoolteacher and lifelong farmer, was an unsuccessful candidate for Iowa lieutenant governor in 2018. As for her future, Hart said, “I am a life-long Iowan and I will always work for a more prosperous future of our children and grandchildren. … We have much more to work for.”

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