The Canadian Press
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A Democratic congressional candidate who trailed by six votes after a recount said Wednesday she will forgo further legal challenges in Iowa and instead appeal directly to the U.S. House for additional recount proceedings.
Rita Hart's campaign had until Wednesday afternoon to contest the election under Iowa law following Monday's certification of results in which Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was declared the winner of the closest House race in decades.
An election contest in Iowa would have set in motion the formation of a five-judge panel that would have been required to rule on who won the race by Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Hart's campaign said that quick timeline would not allow enough time to review all the ballots, including thousands of unexamined undervotes and overvotes and a small number of others that were not counted for a variety of reasons.
Instead, the campaign said that Hart would file an election contest with the U.S. House under the Federal Contested Elections Act in the coming weeks.
Such a filing, due within 30 days after Monday's certification, will trigger a proceeding in front of the House Committee on Administration that would allow Hart to gather testimony and evidence.
The Democratic-controlled House could also direct the committee to conduct its own investigation and recount, a process that in the past has included reviewing election records and examining disputed ballots.
Ultimately, the committee would file a report to the full House with its findings on who won the most votes and recommending who should fill the seat representing southeast Iowa. The House could act on a simple majority vote.
It wasn't clear whether the process would prevent Miller-Meeks from taking office on Jan. 3 to represent the district, which includes Davenport, Iowa City and much of southeastern Iowa.
Based on its precedent, the House could ask Miller-Meeks to step aside or remain seated while other representatives-elect stand to take the oath of office, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Miller-Meeks would likely be sworn in separately and allowed to serve pending the outcome of the contest, given that her victory has been certified by the state. Or, the House could refuse to allow her to be seated, although that has been done only under “the most extraordinary circumstances” in elections marked by widespread irregularities.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, noted that a record number of district voters participated in the election, and he said they deserved to have any challenge decided by Iowa judges.
“The will of Iowa voters should not be overturned by partisan Washington, D.C., politicians,” said Pate, who would have acted as the clerk for the Iowa contest court.
Pate added that a “bipartisan and transparent recount” confirmed Miller-Meeks' victory by a margin of 196,964 to 196,958.
But retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat who has represented the district since 2007, said he would urge the House to consider Hart's challenge given the historically close margin separating the candidates.
“All ballots must be reviewed to accurately count voter intent,” he said.
Hart requested a recount in all 24 counties in the district after trailing by 47 votes, following the discovery of tabulation errors that twice flipped the lead back and forth between the two candidates.
The recount cut the deficit to six votes. Hart's campaign noted that elections officials did not review all ballots that the machines considered overvotes or undervotes to determine voter intent, and were barred from considering others that were not counted during the initial canvass.
“While that recount considered more votes, limitations in Iowa law mean there are more legally cast votes left to be counted,” Hart campaign manager Zach Meunier said. “With a margin this small, it is critical that we take this next step to ensure Iowans’ ballots that were legally cast are counted.”
The campaign said that some of the uncounted ballots came from active-duty military members overseas.
Miller-Meeks campaign lawyer Alan Ostergren criticized Hart for bypassing the Iowa legal system in favour of a process that will be overseen by House Democrats, arguing that a state contest would have confirmed the outcome.
“Rita Hart has chosen a political process controlled by Nancy Pelosi over a legal process controlled by Iowa judges. All Iowans should be outraged by this decision,” he said.
The race is the closest House contest since one in Indiana in 1984. In that case, the Democratic-controlled House voted to seat the Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey after its recount determined he won by four votes, nullifying the state's certification of his Republican challenger as the winner.
Ryan J. Foley, The Associated Press