U.S. House panel takes step toward deciding contested Iowa election

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

WASHINGTON — A U.S. House committee on Friday finalized the process by which it will decide a claim from an Iowa Democrat who lost by six votes last November that she was the rightful winner.

During a brief, virtual hearing, the House Administration Committee unanimously approved a resolution outlining how it will handle election challenges like the one Rita Hart filed under the Federal Contested Elections Act.

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

Hart ran against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks to replace now-retired Rep. Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s 2nd District. The state-certified results 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.

Republicans have criticized Hart for not challenging the election results in state court before asking Congress to resolve the issue. Hart’s campaign has argued she did not do so because Iowa statute does not offer enough time for a sufficient appeal process.

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

Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated to represent the district along with other newly elected lawmakers. She filed a response to Hart’s challenge last month, arguing the claim should be dismissed.

The House Administration panel has largely been silent on the pending challenge.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, said during Friday’s hearing that taking up Hart’s challenge “would set a dangerous precedent” that candidates don’t have to exhaust their legal options before asking Congress to weigh in on an election dispute.

“I can’t think of a worst first step this committee could take in a new Congress than to waste taxpayer dollars by moving forward with overturning this election,” Davis said.