GOP hardball pays off as Rita Hart drops IA-02 election contest

For the second straight election cycle, Iowa Republicans have gotten away with not counting disputed ballots in a race the GOP candidate won by fewer than ten votes.

Democrat Rita Hart announced on March 31 that she was withdrawing her contest of the election in Iowa’s second Congressional district, where Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was certified the winner by six votes out of more than 394,000 cast.

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Where things stand in the IA-02 election contest

Spenser Mestel is a freelance journalist and author of Spenser’s Super Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about voting rights. -promoted by Laura Belin 

The race in Iowa’s second Congressional district, the closest U.S. House election since 1984, isn’t over just yet.

On December 22, Democratic candidate Rita Hart filed a “notice of contest” in the House, officially challenging the six-vote margin that separates her from Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Now, the issue goes to the House Administration Committee, which recently agreed on rules to hear the case. Should it agree to investigate further, the winner could be decided by a majority vote in the House.

Hart’s bid is a long-shot. In the last 107 elections to be contested under the Federal Contested Elections Act, 104 failed. However, other circumstances favor Hart: Democrats control the chamber (221 to 211) and have already taken the unprecedented step of expelling Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two committees. Plus, the Hart campaign has credible evidence that the initial vote-counting and subsequent recounting were flawed.

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There must have been a better way

Everyone knew Iowa’s State Canvassing Board wouldn’t have the final word on the 2020 election in the second Congressional district when it certified a six-vote win for Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks on November 30. Most politics watchers expected Democratic candidate Rita Hart to file for an election contest.

Instead, the Hart campaign announced on December 2 that it will bypass Iowa’s process and appeal directly to the Democratic-controlled U.S. House.

This won’t end well.

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Get ready for an election contest in IA-02

All 24 counties in Iowa’s second Congressional district have recounted their votes, but the race between Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks is far from over.

Trackers including Pat Rynard of Iowa Starting Line and Tom Barton of the Quad-City Times reached the same conclusion: once all counties submit their new numbers to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Miller-Meeks will have a six-vote lead out of more than 394,000 ballots cast. Rynard posted vote changes in each county since election day here. The two candidates’ vote share is identical to the one-hundredth of a percent (49.91 percent).

The Miller-Meeks campaign’s lawyer Alan Ostergren declared victory after Clinton County’s recount board finished its work on November 28. The Republican candidate said in a written statement, “While this race is extraordinarily close, I am proud to have won this contest and look forward to being certified as the winner by the state’s Executive Council on Monday.”

Three Republicans (Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig) and two Democrats (State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and State Auditor Rob Sand) serve on the Executive Council. Assuming that body certifies the result, an election contest is extremely likely.

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How many Iowa candidates "won" under rules Republicans forced on unions?

Sixth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad set out to cripple public sector unions in 2017 by enacting a law that eviscerated bargaining rights and established new barriers to union representation. Under that law, public employees must vote to recertify their union in each contract period (in most cases, every two or three years). Anyone not participating in the election is considered to have voted against the union. So a successful recertification requires yes votes from a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit.

The law hasn’t accomplished its goal of destroying large unions that typically support Democratic candidates. The vast majority of bargaining units have voted to recertify in each of the past four years. This fall, all 64 locals affiliated with the Iowa State Education Association voted to keep having that union negotiate their contracts. AFSCME Council 61, which represents most Iowa state and local government workers, was nearly as successful, with 64 out of 67 units voting to recertify.

I decided to return to a question Bleeding Heartland first pondered in 2017: how many candidates for other Iowa offices could declare victory under the system Republicans forced on labor unions?

I found that even after Iowa’s highest-turnout election in decades, our state would have no representation in Congress if contenders needed a majority vote among all constituents. “Winners” could be declared in about a third of state legislative races.

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