An attorney for Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was provisionally sworn in as the representative for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District on Jan. 3, is officially asking the House Committee on Administration to dismiss Rita Hart’s challenge to Miller-Meeks’ six-vote victory in the November election.
Attorney Alan Ostergren told the Des Moines Register that on Thursday Miller-Meeks will filing a response to Hart’s challenge, arguing that it is invalid because Hart did not take all available steps to dispute the election results under state law before requesting the House Committee on Administration conduct its own recount of the 2nd District election results.
“The precedents of the House, going back a century or more, require contestants to avail themselves of every single remedy they have under state law before they go to Congress,” Ostergren said.
Hart filed a Notice of Contest with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 22, in accordance the Federal Contested Elections Act (FCEA). The act was passed in 1969, to provide a regular form to challenges to the election of a member of Congress. The FCEA does not require a challenger to exhaust state-level remedies before bringing the matter to the House.
Hart decided to skip the final stage in contesting an election available under Iowa law: an appeal to a judicial committee chaired by chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. The Hart campaign said in a statement last month that the eight days between the certification of Miller-Meeks’ election and the federal deadline by which states had to resolve election disputes was not enough time for a committee to be selected and fully review the 2nd District election.
Also, under state law, the commission would only be able to review or recount the ballots that were counted in the original election total. In its FCEA filing, Hart cites 22 ballots she says were legally cast but not counted in the original vote tally.
Because the House Committee on Administration can set its own standards for reviewing an election, it would be able to examine those 22 ballots to determine if they are valid. The ballots would be enough to overcome Miller-Meeks’ six-vote lead in the election results certified by the Iowa Board of Canvas.
Ostergren did not directly address the 22 uncounted votes in his remarks to the Register, but said Hart’s decision not to finish Iowa’s state-level election appeals process “suggests that they don’t think their arguments will pass muster if a judge looks at it but might pass muster if a partisan were to look at it.”
Hart is a Democrat and Miller-Meeks is a Republican. Because the House of Representatives has a Democratic majority, the House Administration Committee does as well.
If the committee were to investigate the election in the 2nd District and determine Hart actually received more votes than Miller-Meeks, it could recommend the House unseat Miller-Meeks and replace her with Hart. The House could do that by a simple majority vote, because the Constitution gives the House the authority to be “the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”
The last time the House replaced a member in response to a FCEA challenge was in 1985. The process took six months, from the filing of the Notice of Contest to the final resolution of the case.