Hart attorney: Miller-Meeks’ opposition to election appeal ‘preposterous’

By: - January 25, 2021 5:37 pm
American flag flying with U.S. Capitol in the background.

A flag flies near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in file photo from Dec. 18. 2019. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ approach to fighting Democrat Rita Hart’s appeal of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District election results is “preposterous,” Hart’s lawyer said Monday. 

Miller-Meeks has been sworn in as the new representative representing southeastern Iowa after the state certified her as the winner by six votes. Hart appealed to the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, a petition that is still pending. 

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

Miller-Meeks last week contended that Hart should have appealed to a state panel of judges first. 

On Monday, Hart attorney Marc Elias told reporters an appeal at the state level wasn’t acceptable because the five-day limit on deliberations didn’t allow enough time to present the case. Hart has identified 22 votes that she says weren’t counted in the race but were legally cast. 

Elias also said Monday that Miller-Meeks’ filings in the case left out the most recent precedent, a 1996 case. In that election, GOP Rep. Robert Dornan of California lost his seat to Democrat Loretta Sanchez after the Republican-controlled House dismissed Dornan’s appeal following an investigation.

Dornan did not appeal to a state panel first. The margin in that election was 984 votes. Dornan claimed rampant illegal votes by non-citizens.

Elias said Miller-Meeks does not seem to contest the 22 uncounted, legally cast votes at issue.

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

“They do not say the 22 votes should not have been counted. They do not say that they were anything other than erroneously not counted,” Elias said. “Instead, their argument is that the fact that we identified the 22 votes and were not able to say they were the only 22 votes (not counted) means that those 22 voters should be disenfranchised. That is frankly a preposterous proposition and it finds no support in contests law,” he added. 

On Friday, Miller-Meeks called for the House to dismiss Hart’s challenge. Miller-Meeks argued that Hart had failed to exhaust her other appeal options, referring to the state panel of judges. Despite the 1996 case, Miller-Meeks contended it would set a bad precedent for the House to consider the appeal without the state judges weighing in first, putting the matter in the political arena. 

“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 their response to Hart’s appeal.

On Monday, Hart attorney Elias said he’s confident that the legal arguments will be resolved in Hart’s favor.

“The 22 votes, from our standpoint, look to be conceded that they should count,” Elias said. “And if that’s the case, then I’m very confident that after those 22 votes are counted, Rita Hart will be sworn in as the next congresswoman” from Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. 

The election, one of the closest in recent history, was to replace Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who retired. 

Elias said he expects the House to act relatively quickly now that it has dealt with the insurrection at the Capitol, the second impeachment of then-President Donald Trump, and the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

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.