Rita Hart campaign files petition in U.S. House, claims uncounted ballots will give her a nine-point lead

The campaign for Democratic candidate Rita Hart filed a petition in the U.S. House on Tuesday, saying uncounted ballots in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District will give Hart a nine-point lead.


Tian Liu

Democratic candidate Rita Hart speaks during a brunch fundraiser for Sen. Zach Wahls at the Walker Homestead on July 14, 2019.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor

The Rita Hart campaign filed a petition with the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to contest Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ six-vote victory, saying the uncounted ballots will ensure Hart a lead.  

During a virtual press conference on Tuesday, the campaign said that Hart, the Democratic candidate in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, will see a nine-vote lead after all of the ballots are recounted due to errors by election officials.

The race in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District has turned out to be the tightest in the country and in Iowa’s recent history. The Hart campaign called for a recount of all 24 counties after the Nov. 3 election, but because of existing Iowa law, ballots that were initially excluded could not be counted in the district-wide recount. 

The campaign filed a Notice of Contest using the Federal Contested Elections Act. Marc Elias, Rita Hart for Iowa legal counsel, said there are 22 lawful ballots that were not counted in the initial recount and state-certified results. 

In a statement on Twitter, Miller-Meeks said it’s shameful that Hart does not respect the decision of Iowa voters.

“I’m proud that a narrow majority of you elected me as your next member of Congress … unfortunately, Rita Hart now wants Washington politicians to override the will of Iowa voters and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowa voters,” Miller-Meeks said on Twitter.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, also tweeted support for Miller-Meeks, writing “Congress and all of its members should make clear that it will not allow candidates to skip a judicial process for a political one. I know Iowans won’t accept it.”

Fifteen of the 22 ballots Hart is contesting were cast for Hart, and the campaign is arguing for those votes to be counted. 

“One thing we should all agree on whether we’re on one side of the aisle or the other, is that no voter should be disenfranchised due to election official error, and certainly should not be further disenfranchised because Iowa law does not allow those ballots to be recounted,” Elias said Tuesday.

According to the Hart campaign, those 22 uncounted ballots include:

  • 2 curbside ballots in Scott County cast by voters with a disability 
  • 9 absentee ballots cast by voters in Marion County “who legally-cast their ballots but inexplicably had them not counted in the initial canvass and therefore the ballots were not permitted to be counted in the recount.” 
  • 1 provisional ballot cast in Johnson County before the Nov. 9 deadline, but was not counted due to an error by an election official.
  • 1 absentee ballot cast in Johnson County that was “unlawfully rejected by election workers” because of the location of a signature on an affidavit envelope.
  • 2 absentee ballots cast by voters in Johnson County who received sealed envelopes, and as a result, had to break open the envelope to place the ballot inside.
  • 5 absentee ballots cast in Johnson and Scott Counties that election workers rejected because they weren’t “properly sealed,” but the voters swore under oath that they did seal their return envelopes.
  • 2 absentee ballots cast by voters in Des Moines and Wapello Counties, but dropped their ballots in a drop box in Linn County.

Elias said they included what they thought were lawful votes in the petition, and that the Miller-Meeks campaign can bring additional ballots to the U.S. House if they think something was left out. 

The U.S. Constitution states that the U.S. House judges the qualifications in the election results of its members, and Elias said the Federal Contested Elections Act provides an orderly way the U.S. House can exercise this power and give rights to both the contested and the contestee. 

Hart announced after the state canvassing board certified the results on Nov. 30 that she would not challenge the results in Iowa courts, because under Iowa code, a legal challenge would have to be resolved by a judicial panel by Dec. 8. Contesting the results in the U.S. House allows for more time for votes to be counted. 

“These are voters who did everything right,” Elias said. “They played by the rules, they used drop boxes that were permitted by state law, and yet they found themselves disenfranchised.” 

Miller-Meeks accused Hart of ignoring Iowa law, because the Hart campaign chose to bring their legal challenge to Congress rather than appeal to an Iowa court.

“She knows her claims are baseless, and that she would lose in any court of law,” Miller-Meeks said.

In early November, counting errors were found in Jasper and Lucas Counties, which had put Miller-Meeks ahead of Hart by nearly 50 votes before the district-wide recount. 

The Associated Press announced earlier this month that they would not call a winner in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District until all legal challenges are complete, although the Miller-Meeks’ campaign has claimed victory.

This story was updated to reflect statements made by Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Gov. Kim Reynolds.