The Democrat-controlled House took the first steps last week of adjudicating a contested House seat that may result in a Republican lawmaker being replaced by her Democratic challenger.
What is the background?
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) was declared the winner of Iowa’s second congressional district over Democratic challenger Rita Hart last November by just six votes — 196,964 to 196,958.
After Iowa certified Miller-Meeks’ win, Hart appealed to the House by filing a Notice of Contest. Hart’s campaign alleged that “the Miller-Meeks campaign has sought to keep legitimate votes from being counted — pushing to disqualify and limit the number of Iowans whose votes are counted,” the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.
Hart claims there are 22 “legally-cast, uncounted votes” from her election — and, of course, she alleges that if those votes are counted, she would be the rightful winner of the contest.
Lawyers for Hart’s campaign allege the Democrat would have won the race by just nine votes had the 22 votes not been excluded.
What is happening now?
The House Administration Committee gathered last Friday to establish the process by which Hart’s claims will be adjudicated.
Politico reported, “The Friday meeting was brief. Members unanimously agreed to a resolution that establishes procedures the committee will abide by as it considers recent elections contested under the act.”
Miller-Meeks has asked the committee to dismiss Hart’s claims, but Friday’s action indicates the committee is taking the claims seriously. Formally rejecting Miller-Meeks’ request would begin an investigative process that could result in Miller-Meeks losing her seat if Hart’s claims are confirmed.
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To deal with past contested elections, the Administration Committee, chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), has set up a task force to oversee an investigation or recount. That panel would make a recommendation based on its findings to the entire House, which could then vote on who should hold the seat.
What was the reaction?
Hart’s campaign praised the development, claiming the step meant the voice of voters would be heard.
“We are glad to see the House Committee on Administration taking action towards ensuring that every legally cast vote is counted in this race and that all Iowans’ voices are heard. Every legal voter in this country has a right to have their ballot counted and the remedy here is clear — count the ballots,” campaign manager Zach Meunier said.
However, House Administration Committee ranking member Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) warned the development may result in a “dangerous precedent.”
“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,” he said, Politico reported.
Part of that danger may be the fact that Hart’s campaign did not exhaust her legal remedies in Iowa.
In fact, Hart’s campaign revealed in early December that was their exact strategy: bypass Iowa courts in lieu of the Democrat-controlled House. The Hart campaign claimed “limitations in Iowa law” made necessary the direct appeal to the House.
The Hart campaign’s decision earned scorn from Miller-Meeks’ campaign, and even Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).
“Rita Hart has chosen a political process controlled by Nancy Pelosi over a legal process controlled by Iowa judges. All Iowans should be outraged by this decision,” the Miller-Meeks campaign said, the Des Moines Register reported.
Reynolds similarly reacted, “By heading straight to a Democratic-controlled Congress, Hart is attempting to undermine the voice of Iowans.”