Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks has been a voting member of Congress for three months, but the Iowa Republican’s tenure in Washington may be short-lived depending on the outcome of the challenge to her razor-thin 2020 election victory.
Republican Miller-Meeks officially beat Democrat Rita Hart by six votes in the November election, according to results certified by the state of Iowa. But Hart is challenging the win with the House of Representatives, which has the final say on election contests. The Democrat says 22 ballots were improperly left out of the official tally that would have swung the election her way.
Both Hart and Miller-Meeks have made their case in writing to the House Administration Committee, the panel reviewing the election contest. If the Democratic-led committee decides to intervene, it could set up a highly-charged political scenario where the full House of Representatives would vote to decide whether Miller-Meeks or Hart should represent the southeastern Iowa district.
House Democrats currently have a narrow majority of 219 seats compared to the Republicans’ 211 seats, with five vacancies. So if Hart becomes the new representative, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will have a better cushion to get the Democrats’ agenda through.
Republicans have launched a coordinated political campaign to fight back against the election challenge, framing it as Pelosi trying to “steal” a seat from Miller-Meeks. They are pressuring vulnerable Democrats to commit to not overturn the will of Iowa voters. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is amplifying the issue with a planned visit to Iowa on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Pelosi says the House of Representatives is obligated under federal law to review election contests and to follow the facts. Given the mere six-vote difference in the tightest race in the country, Democrats say it’s the House’s right to ensure the count is correct.
Pelosi pointed out that she swore in Miller-Meeks on a conditional basis in January when she was under no obligation to seat her with the rest of the Congress. She told reporters last week she’s been fair in the process.
“If I want to be unfair, I wouldn’t have seated the Republican from Iowa, because that was my right on the opening day. I would have just said, ‘They’re not seated.’ And that would have been my right as Speaker to do,” Pelosi said March 25. “But we didn’t want to do that. … So, I want credit for that.”
Here’s what you need to know about the tightest election contest in the nation.
What is Rita Hart’s case for the seat?
Democrat Rita Hart’s campaign has identified 22 voters in the 2nd District who voted legally, but whose ballots were not included in the final tally due “to election worker error.” Hart is asking the House to launch a review of the election and count these legal voters — which would make her the winner.
Some of the 22 voters were shocked to learn their ballots were not included in the final count for minor issues with their outer envelopes. Some of the voters have been speaking out about being disenfranchised and are demanding that their ballots count.
In her latest filing with the House Administration Committee, Hart’s lawyers argue that Miller-Meeks “has yet to produce a single argument to suggest why the 22 votes identified in this proceeding should not be counted.” Her lawyers say Miller-Meeks is standing opposed to democratic norms by “ignoring the clear, undisputed disenfranchisement of Iowans she claims to represent.”
What is Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ case for the seat?
Miller-Meeks has the benefit of the state of Iowa already certifying her win in the Second Congressional District after the votes were recounted in the tight race. The official tally was 196,964 votes for Miller-Meeks and 196,958 votes for Hart.
Miller-Meeks’ lawyers have protested Hart’s decision to contest the election directly with the House of Representatives — controlled by Hart’s Democratic Party — instead of filing paperwork in Iowa courts. They have asked for Hart’s election challenge to be dismissed and argue her claims wouldn’t have withstood judicial scrutiny in Iowa courts.
“The danger of what Hart proposes cannot be overstated,” Miller-Meeks’ latest filing says. “One cannot change the rules after the election was conducted without favoring one candidate or the other—and without destroying the public’s confidence in our election system.”
Who is reviewing the election contest?
The House Administration Committee is currently reviewing Hart’s election challenge. There is no official timeline for a decision to be made.
The Committee is led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. There are six Democrats on the committee and three Republicans.
Lofgren has defended the work of the committee and pointed out that election contests are not unusual, and used by both parties. In fact, Republicans are currently challenging the win in Illinois of Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood, which the committee is also reviewing.
“Republicans know how this process works – over the past 90 years the Congress has adjudicated, in a bipartisan manner, more than a hundred contested elections cases filed by Republicans and Democrats alike in races nowhere near as close as Iowa’s Second,” Lofgren said. “With that history in mind, it is profoundly disappointing some of my Republican colleagues are now painting this process as somehow nefarious.”
Republicans say the committee has no business unseating a duly elected winner of a state election just because Democrats hold the majority. The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Rodney Davis, has raised “serious” ethical issues for Democrats because Hart’s high-profile lawyer, Mark Elias, and his firm Perkins Coie also represent Lofgren and other Democrats on the committee, Davis says.
“This committee is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ‘investigate’ an election that wasn’t afflicted with chaos and that wasn’t even challenged in the courts,” Davis said. “Democrats should stop wasting taxpayer dollars and voter to dismiss this contest immediately.”
What’s the possible outcome?
The House Administration Committee has a range of options, from recommending dismissal to recommending the seat declared vacant and a new election be held.
In a 1985 Indiana case involving Indiana Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey, the committee formed a three-person task force to investigate the contested election that he initially lost by 418 votes. They secured all the ballots, set rules to count them and launched a recount with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. A four-month-long congressional investigation and recount determined that McCloskey won the election by four votes.
A divided House then voted 236-190 to award the seat to McCloskey.