Rita Hart drops her challenge of Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ election, citing the GOP’s ‘toxic campaign of political disinformation’

Left to right: Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa Senate photo) and Rita Hart (Zak Neumann/Little Village)

Rita Hart announced on Wednesday afternoon she is withdrawing her challenge to the 2020 election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Hart, a Democrat, lost the race for the district’s open seat to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six votes, according to the results certified by the state canvassing board.

“After many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest, I have made the decision to withdraw my contest before the House Committee on Administration,” Hart said in a written statement.

The 2020 election in the 2nd District was the closest House contest in the country, and the lead changed twice between the initial report of vote totals on Election Day and the final certification of the vote on Nov. 30, as two counties, Jasper and Lucas, corrected reporting errors in their vote total and a districtwide recount was conducted.

Hart, a former state senator and the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, filed a Notice of Contest with the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives using the Federal Contested Elections Act (FCEA) in December.

In her filing, Hart cited 22 votes in the district she said had been properly cast but not counted due to errors by elections officials. In her response to Hart’s Notice of Contest, Miller-Meeks did not dispute that the 22 votes were properly cast, but instead asserted that the House shouldn’t even be considering the challenge, because Hart did not take the final step provided by Iowa law to challenge elections and appeal the certification of the election results to a panel headed by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Miller-Meeks asked that Hart’s challenge be dismissed.

According to Hart, she chose not to take that final state-level step because there would not have been enough time for the panel to fully consider her appeal before the certified vote totals needed to be reported to Congress, and under Iowa law, the panel would only have been able to review the votes included in the official total, not any that might be have been improperly excluded.

The FCEA, signed into law in 1969 to provide a regular form for election challenges, does not require a challenger to exhaust all state-level remedies before asking the House Committee on Administration, which handles election disputes, to consider a case. Also, the committee isn’t bound by state law when determining what votes to review, because the Constitution gives the House the authority to be “the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”

On March 11, the House Committee on Administration decided to table Miller-Meeks’ request to dismiss Hart’s challenge and move forward with considering whether to launch an investigation of the election in the 2nd District.

The vote by the committee to move forward with the challenge broke down along party lines.

“Today none of us can say with confidence who won this election,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California and the committee’s chair, said when the decision was made. “Our answer must be grounded in hard evidence, not bald assumptions.”

Even before that decision, Republicans at both the state and national level had been complaining that even questioning the certified results was an abuse of power by Democrats, and alleged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was going to use the Democratic majority in the chamber to “steal” the 2nd District seat. Miller-Meeks fully embraced those allegations.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Arizona, said on March 24, “Democrats are trying to overthrow Iowa’s state election laws to remove a sitting U.S. Congresswoman. Americans should be appalled by the lengths Pelosi and the Democrats are willing to go to keep themselves in power.”

Lesko was one of the 139 Republicans in the House who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election win, based on the debunked claims of widespread voter fraud that Donald Trump promoted.

Speaking at an Iowa Republican Party news conference the day after Lesko made her statement, Gov. Kim Reynolds struck a similar note.

“Rita Hart isn’t just asking Congress to overturn a state-certified election,” Reynolds said. “She’s asking Democrats to throw out Iowa law in deciding which votes to count. She actually asked Congress to quote ‘depart from Iowa law.’ It really is as crazy as it sounds. I’m appalled, and I believe that Iowans are just as appalled.”

Appearing with Miller-Meeks in Davenport on Wednesday morning, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, warned that Pelosi would use the election challenge to undermine “the voice of Iowa’s 2nd District,” the Press-Citizen reported.

“Do the Iowans have a voice in this race? … If you want a constitutional [backing, let] the states decide,” McCarthy said, according to the Press-Citizen. “… If Nancy Pelosi wants to pull that game — to try to pick and choose who — she’s going against the voice of Iowa’s 2nd District, and I think that’s wrong.”

McCarthy, the highest-ranking Republican in the House, was another of the 139 members who voted against certifying Biden’s win.

The Iowa official in charge of elections, Secretary of State Paul Pate, has done more than just criticize Hart’s election challenge — he’s been using it to fundraise, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported earlier this week.

“If this tragedy doesn’t underscore how much it matters who our Iowa secretary of state is, I don’t know what does,” Pate, a Republican, said in a fundraising pitch to his supporters. “Just imagine if there was a liberal Democrat sitting in the Iowa SOS office who was willing to ignore the will of the people and walk in lock step with Pelosi!”

“I know the liberals have targeted my defeat as a top priority. Can I count on your support of $5, $15, $35 or $100?”

In her statement on Wednesday afternoon, Hart said, “Since Election Day, and throughout this entire process, my mission has been about ensuring the voices of Iowans who followed the law are not silenced. I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own. The work of ensuring it does not happen again will continue beyond this campaign.”

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans. It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.”

After Hart issued her statement, Miller-Meeks posted a video on Twitter, saying, “I received a very gracious phone call from Rita Hart this afternoon, indicating they are going to drop the contest. I’m deeply appreciative that we’re ending this now, and I wish only the best for she [sic] and her family because I know how stressful this has been.”

“It’s time to move forward, to unite, as one group of people supporting Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District and Iowa,” Miller-Meeks said.

Hart concluded her statement by telling her supporters, “We have so much more to work for. I hope you all will stay involved and join me in working to make Iowa a better place for all.”

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