Mariannette Miller-Meeks was sworn in as the representative from Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District on Sunday. But unlike the other 434 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Miller-Meeks status is still uncertain as the House considers a challenge to the results of the Nov. 3 election.
Rita Hart, the Democratic candidate for the open seat in the 2nd District, filed a Notice of Contest with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives under the Federal Contested Elections Act on Dec. 22, asking for a full recount of votes in the district.
“The important thing to me is that we get the result that was intended by the voters,” Hart said during an appearance on The Steele Report on KWWL Jan. 3. “And that’s why what we’re asking for is to make sure that every vote is counted.”
Miller-Meeks’ six-vote victory in the 2nd District was certified by the Iowa Board of Canvas on Dec. 2, following a recount of votes in the district ordered by the Iowa Secretary of State. But in accordance with Iowa law, that recount only involved ballots that were counted as part of the original vote tally in the district, not all ballots cast. In her Notice of Contest, Hart cited 22 ballots she said were legally cast but never counted.
Hart’s challenge will be reviewed by the Committee on House Administration, and if it decides an investigation is warranted, the committee could order a recount in the district that would reexamine all ballots.
The committee will send a report of its findings and a recommendation for action to the full House. If it determines Hart actually received more legally cast votes than Miller-Meeks, it could recommend removing Miller-Meeks and seating Hart instead.
If a majority in the House were to vote in favor of taking that action, Hart would become the representative of the 2nd District, regardless of the fact Miller-Meeks had previously been sworn in. The Constitution gives the House the authority to determine who its members are. The seldom-used Federal Contested Elections Act was passed in 1969 to standardize the process.
The last time Congress overturned the results of an election following an investigation by the Committee on House Administration was in 1985.
In 1985, the process took six months to complete. There is currently no set schedule for the committee’s review of Hart’s challenge. First, Miller-Meeks must file an official response to the Notice of Contest. She has 30 days from when she received official notification of the contest from the Clerk of the House to do so.
Speaking to KWWL News on Saturday, Miller-Meeks acknowledged the ongoing challenge, but said it would not prevent her from fulfilling her duties.
“While we go through [the process], in the interim time, people need to know they have a representative and that representative is not going to quit working for them,” she said.
Miller-Meeks went on to list her priorities as a member of Congress: “Lowering prescription drug prices, getting access to affordable and portable health care, getting us through the pandemic and preparing for the next pandemic, working on infrastructure.”
Between the preliminary votes reported on Election Day and the final certification the following month, the votes totals in the district changed as Jasper County and Lucas County corrected errors in their originally reported tallies. The lead in the race flipped from Miller-Meeks to Hart then back to Miller-Meeks.
The Republican candidate’s margin of victory shrank from 282 in the preliminary report on Election Day to six in the certified returns.
In an interview with the Quad City Times, Miller-Meeks said the uncertainty surrounding the election results had delayed her setting up offices in the 2nd District and hiring staff. She said she is currently reviewing applications and intends to opens district offices soon.
Until Saturday, Miller-Meeks had been serving as a member of the Iowa State Senate representing District 41, which includes Davis, Jefferson, Van Buren and Wapello counties. Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds set Jan. 26 as the date of a special election to fill in the remaining two years in Miller-Meeks’ Iowa Senate term.