Democrat Rita Hart announced on Wednesday she will contest the Iowa Board of Canvas’s certification of Mariannette Miller-Meeks as the winner of the election for the open seat in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Following a district-wide recount, the board certified a six-vote victory for Miller-Meeks on Monday. But instead of contesting the certification in Iowa by appealing to a state judicial panel, Hart will take her challenge directly to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Rita Hart plans to file a petition with the House Committee on Administration under the Federal Contested Elections Act, a decision that allows for enough time for all legally cast ballots to be considered, ensuring Iowans’ votes are accurately counted,” the Hart campaign said in a news release.
Any challenge in Iowa would have to be concluded by Dec. 8, the deadline in federal law by which all state-level challenges to election results must be resolved. Challenges under the Federal Contested Elections Act (FCEA), a seldom-used law passed in 1969, may be filed at any time within 30 days of the certification of an election.
“When the recount process began more than two weeks ago, Rita Hart was down by 47 votes. Since then, more Iowans’ ballots have been counted and Rita has continuously gained ground, narrowing the gap to a mere 6 votes,” Zach Meunier, Hart’s campaign manager, said in a written speech. “While that recount considered more votes, limitations in Iowa law mean there are more legally cast votes left to be counted. With a margin this small, it is critical that we take this next step to ensure Iowans’ ballots that were legally cast are counted.”
Challenges under the FCEA are judged by the Committee on House Administration of the House of Representatives. If the committee decides Hart’s challenge has sufficient merit, it could conduct a recount of the district. The committee will be able to set its own standards for examining ballots and determining voters’ intentions, so it may choose to examine ballots that were not included in the state’s recount.
The last time the House overturned the results of election in response to a complaint filed under the FCEA was in 1985. Rep. Frank McCloskey, a Democratic incumbent from Indiana, lost by a narrow margin to Republican Richard McIntyre, according to the certified election results. The committee conducted an investigation and a recount, which took six months. The committee concluded McCloskey won his district by four votes, and the House voted to seat McCloskey.
Republicans protested, claiming that overturning the state-certified results was just a partisan action by Democrats, who then as now controlled both the committee and the House. But the House’s decision stood, and McCloskey took his seat.
The Constitution gives the House the authority to be “the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”
A challenge by Hart would not necessarily prevent Miller-Meeks from being seated when the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. According to the Congressional Research Service’s summary of the FCEA, state certification of an election “is considered prima facie evidence of one’s right to the seat, and provides a presumption of the regularity of the returns of that election.” But “the seating of a Member-elect does not prejudice a contest pending under the Federal Contested Elections Act (FCEA) over final right to the seat.”
If the committee decides to conduct a recount and it determines Hart received more votes, it could recommend that the House vote to unseat Miller-Meeks and replace her with Hart.
“An attorney for Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ campaign says ‘all Iowans should be outraged’ that Hart is choosing ‘a political process’ controlled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” Radio Iowa reported. “Attorney Alan Ostergren says an objective process conducted in Iowa’s court system would show that Miller-Meeks won.”
Miller-Meeks was in Washington D.C. on Monday, taking part in the orientation sessions being held for new members of Congress.
The six-vote margin in the 2nd District makes it the closest Congressional race in this year’s election.