Capitol Breach

Dawn breaks at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. 

(The Center Square) – The battle for Iowa’s Second District seat continues in the U.S. House Administration Committee.

Both Democrat contender Rita Hart and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican, filed initial briefs March 22 with the committee, which postponed March 10 the disposition of Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss Hart’s contest of the election until the Committee considers the merits of this contested election case.”

Miller-Meeks won the election by a mere six votes, one of the smallest margins in U.S. history. Hart has argued that the 22 ballots “were wrongfully rejected by election officials.” In the initial legal brief filed March 22, Hart’s team outlined several rules and procedures to address validly cast ballots that were deemed invalid by election officials and not counted, and (2) validly cast ballots that were subjected to inconsistent counting procedures in the Second Congressional District’s 24 counties.”

Hart’s team asked for a full hand recount or that rules and procedures she proposed be applied to ballots that were not previously included in the state-certified vote totals,” specifically “those ballots that have been or will be identified by the parties in their briefing to date” or solely the 22 ballots Hart identified.

The brief states Hart “was not made aware of most of the irregularities challenged in her notice of contest until after the final certification of the election on November 30,” did not learn about two uncounted ballots until Dec. 1, 2020, and did not receive copies of the seven ballot envelopes that had “purported sealing issues and Mr. Nasr’s ballot” and therefore was “unable to identify their specific issues—until November 30, thus foreclosing any pre-certification challenge.”

While Hart first learned about “potential issues” with the remaining 12 ballots before Nov. 30, 2020, “limited information available then” and “limited time to investigate and pursue a contest in state court meant that she lacked the ability to ensure through a state proceeding that all valid ballots cast in the Second Congressional District would be counted.”

“Instead, the only proceeding available to her that could have provided the necessary time, investigatory capabilities, and equitable approach necessary to ensure that all lawful votes were counted was a House contest,” the brief stated.

Miller-Meeks’ team argued again in their legal brief that the committee should immediately dismiss the case and that Hart could have challenged recount irregularities before the state issued its final certification of election on Nov. 30, 2020, but she would have had to challenge the decisions of her representatives on county recount boards “who sought different recount procedures” in different counties and precincts.

They argued that Iowa election laws should be followed in reviewing the case.

“To suggest that the Committee should do anything else is an affront to the people of Iowa and to the fairness of Iowa’s election process. … Establishing new rules after the election, and after the votes are known, undermines public confidence in our election system and show Iowans that their laws do not matter, that their elections do not matter, and that they will be represented by whichever party controls the House,” the brief stated.

“Iowa law provides for a nonpartisan process if a candidate for federal office wishes to contest the results of an election,” Secretary of State Paul Pate told The Center Square in an emailed statement. 

“A panel of Iowa District Court judges, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, hears the contest and delivers a ruling," Pate continued. "Both my office and the Supreme Court were ready, willing, and able to facilitate a fair and thorough contest process. Because Ms. Hart made the decision to forgo Iowa’s non-partisan election contest process, we are unable to provide any background information regarding her claims.”

Committee chairperson U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, set a deadline of March 29 for reply briefs.