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Miller-Meeks Says Attorney's Search For Rejected Ballots In IA-02 Is 'Due Diligence'

Candidates Rita Hart, D - Wheatland, and Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R - Ottumwa, answered questions from reporters and discussed their platforms, concerns and future plans. David Yepsen, host of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS, moderated the debate.
Iowa PBS
Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks says her attorney was doing his "due diligence" in searching for rejected ballots in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. Her opponent, Democrat Rita Hart, has challenged her six vote victory before the U.S. House.

Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks says her lawyer was doing his “due diligence” in looking for rejected ballots across Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. The search comes as the recently-sworn in representative prepares for the prospect of defending her six vote victory before the U.S. House.

Her opponent, former Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart, has identified 22 ballots that voters say were legally cast but improperly left out of the tally. If counted, Hart says the ballots would change the outcome in the race, the closest federal contest in the country during the 2020 cycle.

Miller-Meeks had previously said that every legal ballot in the southeast Iowa race had already been counted, after stating earlier that some votes for her had indeed been left out of the official tally. Hart’s campaign has asserted that the recent efforts by Miller-Meeks’ legal team to chase down rejected ballots contradicts her argument that the count is settled.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Miller-Meeks described the search as routine fact-finding.

“In any process that’s a legal process you have to do discovery and do your due diligence and that’s part of…part of that,” Miller-Meeks said.

The Quad-City Times first reported this week that Miller-Meeks’ attorney Alan Ostergren had contacted a county auditor’s office to get a list of any rejected ballots. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported Friday that the search extended to multiple counties, but only those that Miller-Meeks carried handily.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Ostergren disputed that the campaign is only focusing on Republican-leaning counties, saying the search for other rejected ballots is ongoing.

“This is an ongoing process and we’re going to keep working hard on it,” Ostergren said. “So nobody said we were done with that process. And we’re exploring all the facts that are out there.”

Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in Congress after a panel of state officials certified that she carried the district by a mere six votes, a victory she may have to defend if the Committee on House Administration takes up the challenge filed by Hart.

Hart is petitioning the House to conduct a thorough review and a full hand recount of the race, arguing that at least 22 ballots were erroneously left out of the count and that thousands of undervotes and overvotes were never examined by hand.

Miller-Meeks has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that “more than a century” of precedent compels the House to reject the challenge because Hart didn’t first appeal to a state court. Nonetheless, the precedent is not necessarily legally binding.

Earlier this week, Hart filed a response to Miller-Meek’s motion to dismiss, which her campaign has argued amounts to an effort to disenfranchise voters.

Friday afternoon, the Hart campaign issued a statement maintaining that its goal is that all legal votes are counted.

“It’s clear after this morning’s news that Mariannette Miller-Meeks now agrees there are Iowans whose votes remain to be counted in Iowa’s Second Congressional District,” Hart Campaign Manager Zach Meunier said in a written statement. “She has admitted this in the past and while she has been publicly fighting to disenfranchise Iowans, Miller-Meeks has been secretly hunting for ballots of her own to count.”

Speaking Friday, Ostergren would not say whether Miller-Meeks’ legal team would ultimately seek to have more ballots counted, saying it’s too soon in the legal process to be arguing the case on the merits.

“We’ll reserve judgement for a process where we can fairly and fully flesh out anything that we would have to,” Ostergren said. “But we’re not to that point yet and it would be premature and counterproductive for us to go into those details.”

The Committee on House Administration will determine the next steps for the case. Members have been appointed to the committee following the start of the new Congress, but as of Friday no meetings had been scheduled.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter