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Hart, Miller-Meeks File Additional Briefs In Case Challenging Outcome In 2nd District

Congress set a limit on how much debt the U.S. Treasury could accrue back in 1917.
J. Scott Applewhite
Democrat Rita Hart continues to make the case for a U.S. House Committee to review the race state officials say she lost by a mere six votes, making it one of the closest congressional races in American history. Hart alleges 22 ballots were wrongfully left out of the tally.

In briefs filed with the U.S. Committee on House Administration on Monday, both Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart argue they have democracy on their side, as they made their latest claims in the election contest in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Political tensions around the challenge have increased considerably in recent days, with Republicans seizing on the case as an organizing and fundraising opportunity, and not only for Miller-Meeks.

In her latest filing, Hart argues that the CHA has a “constitutional, statutory, and moral obligation” to make sure that every vote cast in this historically-close race is counted, and that the right candidate holds the southeast Iowa seat.

Hart has maintained that 22 ballots were incorrectly left out of the tally due to election worker error, and that if counted, they would be enough to change the outcome in this race with a meresix-vote margin.

Nonetheless, a bipartisan panel of state officials unanimously certified the results following a districtwide recount.

In the brief filed Monday, Hart argues that Miller-Meeks’ continued obstruction of the efforts to ensure that every legal vote is counted is “alarming, but not surprising”.

“Her obstruction is consistent with her party’s outright hostility to fundamental democratic norms,” the brief reads. “The position of Contestee Miller-Meeks and the Republican Party is now clear: the right to vote is worthy of neither respect nor protection.”

Both parties filed briefs Monday responding to the other side’s initial briefs, which were released March 22. CHA Chair Zoe Lofgren had directed Hart and Miller-Meeks to answer a slate of questions, outline their arguments, detail evidence, and propose a timeline for the review.

The CHA is reviewing the filings and has not yet set the procedures for the overall process.

In her initial filing last week, Miller-Meeks largely declined to answer the specific questions, make her own arguments or produce her own evidence, apart from taking issue with the procedures for the challenge.

The first-term congresswoman has maintained that Hart’s decision to not first appeal to a state court should be disqualifying, arguing that taking her case to the Democratically-controlled House, which is empowered to depart from state law, is like rewriting the rules while the game is being played.

“The danger of what Hart proposes cannot be overstated,” Miller-Meeks’ filing reads. “One cannot change the rules after the election was conducted without favoring one candidate or the other—and without destroying the public’s confidence in our election system.”

Hart’s legal team has countered that it is within Congress’ authority to depart from state laws that are “shown to be unsound."

Members of Congress across the country have picked up Miller-Meeks’ message in a coordinated effort to characterize the case as an attempt to “steal” an election, a premise which Lofgren has described as “dangerous."

“I urge Republicans to end their coordinated public campaign – filled with the same dangerous rhetoric and baseless accusations of ‘stealing an election’ that contributed to a deadly riot in the Capitol – and instead join us in a deliberate and dispassionate examination of the facts before the Committee,” Lofgren said in a written statement last week.

In her brief Monday, Hart labeled this messaging as a distraction meant to compensate for Miller-Meeks’ “lack of legal, factual, or normative arguments” as to why the 22 ballots should not be counted.

But Republicans apparently see material benefit in turning up the political heat on this issue; Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate sent out a fundraising message Monday, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported, requesting donations to help “stop Pelosi”.

House Minority Leader weighed on the issue Monday, penning a later to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing her of trying to manipulate the outcome of the review.

“While the Constitution gives Congress the authority to determine its own members, it is unprecedented and antithetical to our democracy to unseat the duly elected and certified winner of a state election simply because you have the majority,” McCarthy’s letter reads.

While the election contests remain unusual, more than 100 have been filed in the past 90 years, but all but three cases were rejected.

Republicans hope to continue to elevate Miller-Meeks’ visibility in the coming days; McCarthy has scheduled an event with Miller-Meeks in Davenport on Wednesday, with plans to tour a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site and meet with constituents in the 2nd Congressional District.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter