Miller-Meeks and Hart see-saw lead again in 2nd District race

One precinct in Lucas County reported test data instead of actual numbers on election night, launching Miller-Meeks back into the lead but just by a couple dozen votes.



Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

The race for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional seat continues to see-saw more than a week after Election Day, and results may not be clear until Nov. 30, when the Secretary of State’s Office certifies state-wide elections.

On Tuesday after an updated vote count from a precinct in Lucas County, in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks led by just 40 votes over Democrat Rita Hart.

A human error was reported at one precinct in the county, which changed the front runner in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District race for the second time. Miller-Meeks currently leads with 49.92 percent of the vote. 

“This race is one of the closest federal races in the nation this year, and we want to make sure we get it right,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said on Tuesday in Lucas County. “As I’ve said many times, election night results are always unofficial.”

Julie Masters, the Lucas County auditor said it was determined on Nov. 9 afternoon, that the Russell precinct results were not reported on election night. Instead, test data — not election night data — was in the system and reported for that precinct. 

The numbers have been corrected on the Iowa Secretary of State website. Pate ordered an audit of the affected precinct and requested a countywide recount of all results.

A similar story previously reported by The Daily Iowan unfolded on Nov. 6, in Jasper County. In that instance there was a human error in data entry, which tipped the votes in favor of Hart by 162 votes. 

Remarkably, these small changes in voting totals due to errors at precincts have—twice now—changed the front runner in the race separated by a few dozen votes. 

Pate said human errors happen, but the system of checks and balances was working in Iowa’s election process. He acknowledged that because this race is so close, the public is more interested in the race. 

This error was discovered on Monday while Lucas County was preparing for the canvass set to happen the following day. 

RELATED: Iowa Secretary of State calls for hand audit of precinct results in too-close-to-call Iowa 2nd District race

“Software used for reading machine cartridges represented all precincts as reporting on election night due to some test information that was already in the computer that wasn’t voided, wasn’t taken out,” Masters said. “The test results were reported instead of the actual results from the precinct.” 

Masters took responsibility for the misreported information. She said a county-wide administrative recount will be done by machines in all precincts, and that an additional hand count will take place at the Russell precinct. 

Pate said in the press conference the tentative plan is to do the county-wide recount by machines in the morning on Nov. 12, and if that goes smoothly, to start the hand recount of the Russell precinct in the afternoon. 

The two campaigns released statements with competing claims for the seat. Miller-Meeks’ campaign wrote Tuesday night “The election is over, and it is time to move forward together and focus on the priorities that will best serve Iowans.”

The Hart campaign followed with a statement, saying by the end of this process “Rita Hart will be the next congresswoman from Iowa’s Second District”

“As we have said repeatedly, it is critical that Iowans’ voices are heard and the votes are accurately counted. The vote totals in this race continue to fluctuate, and both Iowa officials and independent news organizations have it clear the race is too close to call.” 

When the Jasper County error was announced Nov. 6, the Miller-Meeks campaign said it didn’t have enough information from the Secretary of State’s office. This time when the error in Lucas County puts Miller-Meeks slightly ahead, the Hart campaign is critical. 

Shayla McCormally, legal counsel for the Hart campaign, said at a virtual press conference that the Secretary of State Chief of Staff left a message with the Rita Hart campaign on the general information line at 9 p.m. on Monday night. When the campaign got back in touch, he alerted them the total votes counted in the precinct was 458, resulting in a net gain for Miller-Meeks of 167 votes, flipping the race. McCormally expressed concern that this mistake was discovered six days after the election.

She also said she felt the Secretary of State was rushing Lucas County to certify their results. Kevin Hall, the Secretary of State’s communications director, wrote in an email to *The Daily Iowan* that Lucas County already scheduled their official canvass for the morning of Nov. 10, and that state law requires the counties to complete their canvass by the end of the day on Tuesday.