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Hart Drops Challenge Of Historically-Close Race In 2nd Congressional District

Rita Hart filed in late December to challenge the results under the Federal Contested Elections Act.
CAROLINE BREHMAN / CQ-ROLL CALL VIA GETTY IMAGES
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Rita Hart announced Wednesday she is dropping her challenge of the outcome in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, one of the closest congressional races in U.S. history.

Democrat Rita Hart announced Wednesday she is dropping her challenge of the historically-close outcome in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. The announcement followed an escalating pressure campaign by Republican leaders across the country aimed at blocking the congressional review of the race, one of the closest elections in American history.

The southeast Iowa seat once considered reliably Democratic will stay in Republican hands, after Hart dropped her case against Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ six-vote margin of victory, which a bipartisan panel of state officials unanimously certified in November.

Hart had opted to file a contest in the Democratically-controlled Congress, rather than make her case in state court, alleging that 22 ballots were legally cast but wrongfully left out of that count, enough to change the outcome.

Though Miller-Meeks’ margin has narrowed since Election Day, after election officials counted last remaining ballots and corrected some limited errors, she never lost her lead, which stood at six votes following a full recount across all 24 counties.

In a statement Wednesday, Hart pointed to a “toxic campaign of political disinformation” by Republican leaders for cutting her effort short.

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” Hart said in a written statement. “It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.”

Hart filed her contest with the U.S. Committee on House Administration, following a legally established process that while unusual, is not unprecedented. Democrats maintained that there was nothing wrong with her case, which sought to have every legally cast ballot counted, including thousands that were never examined by hand and may have been misread by counting machines.

But Miller-Meeks, Republican members of Congress and party leaders across the country blasted the contest as a calculated attempt by Democrats to leverage their majority in the House in order to “steal” an election.

“Rita Hart herself said, ‘I had to skip over the courts and go to Congress to get the result I need’. And her attorney said in his filing to the House Committee on Administration that the committee should use its full discretion to depart from Iowa law,” Miller-Meeks told reporters Wednesday afternoon before Hart’s announcement. “No one, I don’t care where you live, what party you are, no one should be OK with violating state laws to get the results of an election that they want. We should all be outraged at that.”

In recent weeks, some moderate Democrats in the House had voiced their own opposition to Hart’s contest. Among the Republicans who criticized the effort were 9 of the 10 House members who voted to impeach President Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, calling Hart’s appeal a “profoundly hypocritical” effort by Democrats to “overturn an election."

Democrats have disputed the comparisons between Hart’s contest and Trump’s own baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. Unlike the former president, Hart sought to have legal votes counted, not disqualified.

Hart’s announcement came the same day House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy campaigned in the district with Miller-Meeks, an unusually high-profile event for the first-term congresswoman, as part of an effort to drum up support and boost visibility for her.

“I understand people get upset when they lose. But the idea that you want to come in and play a political game is concerning to me,” McCarthy told reporters before Hart’s announcement. “You have elections and when election’s over it’s time to govern. The election is over. Congresswoman Marianne Meeks won the race. It is time to allow Iowa to have the voice.”

Following the announcement, Miller-Meeks thanked Hart for conceding the race.

“I want to thank Rita Hart for her decision. I know how extremely difficult it is to lose an election, but for the people to have faith and confidence in the election system and Iowa laws, it was gracious of her to concede at this time,” Miller-Meeks said in a written statement. “I look forward to continuing to work to represent the people of Iowa’s Second District.”

Hart, for her part, maintains that legally cast votes in the race went uncounted and that some Iowans’ voices were “silenced." She said she’ll continue to work to improve the process in the future.

“I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own. The work of ensuring it does not happen again will continue beyond this campaign,” Hart said in a written statement. “I wish Mariannette Miller-Meeks all the best as she serves the people of this great state as Congresswoman. This has been a difficult process for all of those involved and it’s incredibly important that we work together to reform the system so this does not happen again in the future.”