Democrat Hart takes lead in tight 2nd District race after Jasper County corrects error

Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott addresses reporters on Nov. 6, 2020. Parrott reported an error in results in one precinct, which flipped unofficial results in the 2nd Congressional District race. (Screenshot of news conference via KCCI)

Democrat Rita Hart has taken a narrow lead over Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District race after Jasper County corrected an election-night mistake involving more than 100 votes in one precinct.

Secretary of State Paul Pate announced Jasper County will conduct an audit and recount of voting in the county after poll workers incorrectly transferred results to a spreadsheet that was used for reporting results on election night. Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott said he expects the results showing a Hart win will be confirmed by the review. 

A recount of Jasper County voting in all races is scheduled to begin Saturday. Pate ordered a hand count of the results from the precinct where the error was made, Clear Creek Poweshiek at Mingo, where 561 votes were cast.

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart is running for Congress in the 2nd District. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

The Iowa secretary of state’s website at 9:30 a.m. Friday showed Hart with 196,603 votes to Miller-Meeks’ 196,441, a 162-vote spread. That is a narrower margin than the 282-vote advantage Miller-Meeks had early Wednesday. 

“As we have said consistently, iowans’ voices must be heard and their votes accurately counted,” Hart spokesman Zach Meunier said in a statement. “We are confident by the end of this process that Rita Hart will be the next congresswoman from Iowa’s 2nd District.”

Pate said at a news conference that mailed ballots that were postmarked on or before Nov. 2 will be counted through Monday. Each campaign will have three days to request a recount after the final results are submitted.

Jasper County reported the discrepancy in the precinct’s results to the state about 4:30 p.m. Thursday after reviewing records to pin down the mistake, Parrott said. Pate drove to Newton to investigate.

“Our investigation determined that Jasper County’s unofficial election night results — and I want to underscore unofficial election night results — over-reported some races in one precinct,” Pate told reporters. “This discrepancy (affected) in both political parties, nonpartisan candidates, judges and statewide public measures. The major race that was (affected) here is the 2nd (District) congressional race,” he added.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks at a news conference on election results in Jasper County on Nov. 6, 2020. (Screen shot from event livestream)

Pate said all votes in Jasper County will be recounted and the public will be allowed to observe the work.

Parrott said the correction of the results showed the system of checking unofficial results works.

“Obviously, on election night Jasper County made an election reporting error to the secretary of state’s office,” Parrott said. “That error has since been corrected. That is why we have the process we do in Iowa.”

Miller-Meeks declared victory shortly after midnight Tuesday, but Hart’s campaign said the race was too close to call. New outlets have not projected a winner and ballots still are being counted.

Hart and Miller-Meeks are vying to replace retiring Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack in the district representing southeast Iowa. This marks Miller-Meeks’ fourth run for the office and Hart’s first. 

Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist and Army veteran, is an Iowa state senator. Hart, a former teacher,  previously served in the Iowa Senate.

Iowa state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is running for Congress in District 2. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

The candidates sparred for months in a lively campaign that centered around differing approaches to health care, climate change, and fighting the spread of COVID-19.

In unofficial results in the other congressional districts, Republican Randy Feenstra handily defeated Democrat J.D. Scholten to replace ousted Congressman Steve King in 4th District; Democrat Cindy Axne defeated Republican David Young in the 3rd District; and Republican Ashley Hinson topped Democratic incumbent Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District.

Should Hart hold on to win in the 2nd District, Iowa’s previous congressional delegation of three men and three women split evenly between the parties would change to four women and two men, with four Republicans and two Democrats.

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.