Republican Miller-Meeks declares victory in 2nd District, even as one county prepares to recount votes on Thursday

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks declared victory in the race for the open seat in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday, even though there is a recount already scheduled for Thursday in Lucas County.

Lucas County put Miller-Meeks ahead of her Democratic opponent Rita Hart by a few dozen votes, when its auditor’s office posted new results for one of the county’s precincts on Monday night. According to Auditor Julie Masters, the county erroneously posted the total from a pre-election test which had not been cleared from a computer for one precinct, instead of the actual results for the precinct.

Voters in that precinct cast 217 votes for Miller-Meeks and 54 votes for Hart. At the time the amended results were posted, Hart was ahead in the district’s unofficial results by 152 votes.

Hart had moved into the lead after the Jasper County Auditor’s Office discovered results in one of its precincts were incorrectly recorded.

“It was a human error, like a lot of things that happen,” Auditor Dennis Parrott said during a news conference last Friday.

A machine recount of votes in the entire county and a hand recount of votes in a previously misreported precinct confirmed Hart’s lead.

On Wednesday morning, the Iowa Secretary of State’s unofficial total for the 2nd Congressional District had Miller-Meeks up by 47 votes, with 196,962 votes to Hart’s 196,815.

At the direction of Secretary of State Paul Pate, the Lucas County Auditor’s Office will conduct a machine recount of the county’s votes, as well as a hand recount in the precinct where the vote total was amended. The recount is scheduled to begin on Thursday morning.

News organizations have declined to declare a winner in the 2nd District because the vote is too close. No vote totals in Iowa will be considered official until the Secretary of State certifies the totals on Nov. 30.

Still, Miller-Meeks declared victory on Tuesday. She tweeted her “heartfelt gratitude” to voters, praised Hart for her “grace and positive demeanor,” before saying, “The election is over, and it is time to move forward together and focus on the priorities that will best serve Iowans.”

After Miller-Meeks claimed victory, Hart campaign manager Zack Meunier released a statement on behalf of his candidate.

“As we have said repeatedly, it is critical that Iowans’ voices are heard and the votes are accurately counted,” Meunier said. “The vote totals in this race continue to fluctuate, and both Iowa officials and independent news organizations have made it clear that the race is too close to call. Iowa is a state that values election integrity and Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ campaign’s attempts to usurp this process undermines that integrity.”

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Meunier concluded his statement by saying the campaign is “confident by the end of this process that Rita Hart will be the next congresswoman from Iowa’s Second District.”

Hart has until Friday to request a recount of the whole 2nd District, or selected parts of it.

Hart had her strongest showing in Johnson County, where she received 56,124 votes and Miller-Meeks received 24,099, according to the results the county certified on Tuesday. There were also 68 write-in votes cast in last week’s election.

But even though she won 70 percent of the vote, Hart still underperformed compared to Joe Biden in Johnson County, John Deeth pointed out in an analysis of the county’s vote published on Wednesday.

Hart received 3,053 fewer votes than Biden did in Johnson County.

“Some of that was anti-Trump voters who crossed back to the GOP down-ballot. Trump ran 848 votes behind Joni Ernst and 1174 behind Miller-Meeks,” Deeth wrote.

But as important as those who voted for both Biden and Miller-Meeks were, those who voted for Biden but didn’t vote for any candidate for Congress, resulting in what’s known as “under votes,” were even more so.

[T]he most haunting numbers of the whole election, in light of the 40 vote margin as I write, are the 3907 under votes in the congressional race. That share was highest in the student precincts and in trailer court dominated West Lucas.

But it’s wrong to blame undervoting in student precincts – some are already doing that – for the apparent loss, when Johnson County did more for the Democratic ticket than anyone else in the district or state. Johnson County was the top county in the state by 13 to 14 points across the board in all of the top of the ticket races. That same pattern and that same exact margin has been a pattern since the 2014 cycle. There used to be a little more variation, and we used to be more like five or six points ahead of the next best, but ever since 2014 it’s been number one in every race and it’s been in the ballpark of 13 to 15%

This year’s election was the first presidential election since straight-party ticket voting was eliminated in Iowa. In 2016, a voter could have filled in a single oval — for either the Democratic Party or Republican Party — and automatically have votes for all that party’s candidates recorded without bothering to fill out the rest of the ballot.

Straight-party ticket voting was eliminated in Iowa in 2017, when the Republicans in charge of both chambers of the Iowa Legislature pushed through their package of election changes that included the voter ID requirement.

“Republicans approved this legislation because they knew they had to face a midterm with an unpopular president,” David Yepsen, a longtime Iowa political reporter and the host Iowa Press, told Politico in 2018. “Much of the Democratic strategy is aimed at first-time voters, especially millennials. There’s going to be a lot of first time, anti-Trump voters who will show up, and they could be confused in the polling booth.”