Miller-Meeks argues against Hart election challenge in Iowa’s 2nd District

The Polk County Election Office provided stickers to early voters on Oct. 5, 2020. (Photo By Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is calling for the dismissal of a challenge filed by her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, who has claimed that 22 legal votes in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District in the November election were not counted.

In a response to the challenge Hart filed last month, attorneys for Miller-Meeks argue that Hart did not exhaust her options to contest the election results in Iowa state court before asking the U.S. House of Representatives to resolve the dispute. It would set a bad precedent for the House to hash out claims that weren’t first taken before state judges, her attorney argued.

Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been seated even as Democrat Rita Hart challenges the election results. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

“Does the House really want to send the message that if your party is in the majority you can just avoid your state judicial process and bring your complaints to your political allies in Washington, D.C.?” Miller-Meeks’ attorneys, Alan Ostergren, Ryan Koopmans and Mark Schultheis of Des Moines, wrote in the response.

The state-certified results in Iowa’s 2nd District showed a six-vote win for Miller-Meeks in the November general election: 196,964 to 196,958. A recount before the certification narrowed what had been a larger lead for Miller-Meeks, and Hart has argued that some votes were not eligible for the recount due to errors by election officials.

Hart has said she did not pursue a challenge in state court because Iowa statute does not offer enough time for a sufficient appeal process.

Miller-Meeks’ attorneys rejected that argument in the new filing, saying that she still could have filed a challenge with the House if she had received an unfavorable ruling in state court.

Her attorneys also argue that Hart does not show whether the 22 ballots she alleges were uncounted due to errors were the only ones, and whether other uncounted ballots would increase Miller-Meeks’ vote tally.

“It was indeed a close election, but it is over,” her legal team wrote. “Iowa has certified Congresswoman Miller-Meeks as the winner. Without credible allegations of fraud or irregularity, there is no basis for the House to ‘just take one more look.’ Doing so would have serious consequences for the confidence Iowans and the country have in their elections.”

Hart said in a statement that she is seeking to ensure every vote is counted, adding that she hopes “our leaders will move swiftly to address this contest.”

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart, a Democrat, ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

Miller-Meeks was sworn in by the House on Jan. 3 with other newly elected lawmakers. That allows her to begin her term while the election challenge is reviewed by the House Administration Committee. That’s the typical approach for such election disputes.

It’s not clear how long the House panel will take to decide its next steps.

Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the ranking GOP lawmaker on the committee, said in a statement that the committee should immediately dismiss the challenge, saying Hart does not have a case.

Peter Whippy, a spokesman for the committee, said the panel has received the motion to dismiss from Miller-Meeks and “intends to closely evaluate filings from both candidates before making any determination on the merit of the contest or potential further phases of review.”