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Miller-Meeks Declines To Provide Further Evidence In Contested 2nd District Race, Takes Issue With House Democrats' Handling Of Case

An American flag flies at half staff at the U.S. Capitol on Monday to honor two U.S. Capitol Police officers who died following the violence on Capitol Hill.
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The legal team for Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks has declined to detail further evidence to a U.S. House committee demonstrating that she was the rightful winner in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, citing procedural complaints.

Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ legal team has declined to provide further evidence to a U.S. House Committee demonstrating that she was the rightful winner in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District election, citing procedural complaints. An attorney for the Ottumwa Republican is taking issue with the way the committee is handling the case challenging Miller-Meeks’ six-vote margin, one of the closest in congressional history.

Both campaigns faced a Monday deadline to submit briefs outlining their arguments to the U.S. Committee on House Administration, which is charged with reviewing the race. It’s the latest step in the ongoing election contest brought by Miller-Meeks’ Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Rita Hart.

‘We don’t have to prove anything’

CHA Chair Zoe Lofgren directed both sides to make their initial case by responding to a slate of specific questions and requests, including describing “as clearly, precisely and comprehensively as possible” any outstanding ballots that were incorrectly counted, or any other “ballot-counting or ballot-tallying errors or irregularities” in the race.

Miller-Meeks and Hart were also to detail whether they intend to depose witnesses or subpoena documents, to outline what voting machines, ballots or other records the committee should examine, and propose a timeline for the overall review.

But in a 16 page response, Miller-Meeks’ legal team declined to fully answer many of the committee’s questions, arguing that doing so would run afoul of the Federal Contested Elections Actor FCEA, the law which authorizes the challenge of the result.

“We don’t have to prove anything at this point,” Miller-Meeks’ attorney Alan Ostergren told reporters Monday. “And that’s something that I think is important to emphasize, that the congresswoman has a certificate of election and that demonstrates that she is the winner of the race under Iowa law. And so we reject the view that we have to prove things at this point.”

In her letter to both campaigns on March 10 requesting the information, Lofgren noted that a failure to fully respond to the questions “could be deemed to waive or forfeit a claim, defense, or argument."

Ostergren acknowledged this admonition, but maintained that requiring Miller-Meeks to detail further evidence or documentation would unfairly shift the burden of proof on her.

“It’s totally inappropriate to ask the congresswoman to prove things at this point or lay out what her case may or may not be, until we’ve seen what Rita Hart can prove or not prove as the case may be,” Ostergren said.

‘Iowans deserve to know’

Hart’s legal team meanwhile filed a 71 page response to Lofgren’s questions, detailing again the 22 ballots that Hart maintains were legally cast but incorrectly left out of the count, claims which are supported by sworn affidavits from the voters.

In her initial notice of contest, Hart called for a full hand recount of the 400,000 ballots cast. Hart reiterated the request in the filing Monday, but proposed that if the committee wants a faster resolution, they could simply count the 22 ballots, which if tallied would be enough to change the outcome of the race.

“Everyone, including Mariannette Miller-Meeks, has acknowledged that there are uncounted votes left and we cannot allow twenty-two Iowans to be disenfranchised due to administrative errors,” Hart said in a written statement. “It is crucial to me to make sure that this review by the U.S. House is fair, transparent, and follows the facts. Iowans deserve to know that the candidate who earned the most votes is seated.”

The brief penned by attorney Marc Elias directly address one of the main arguments echoed not only by Iowa Republicans, but by GOP officials across the country: that Hart is bent on overturning an election and defying the will of the voters.

The filing disputes this, arguing that in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations during the 2020 election, Hart is not leveling unfounded claims of widespread fraud or willful misconduct.

“Here, by striking contrast, Contestant Hart has claimed victory in the Second Congressional District based on the wrongful rejection of 22 specific ballots and the inconsistent application of the Iowa Counting Rules across the District’s 24 counties,” the filing reads. “She premises this contested election case on the need to count all lawful ballots, not on an unwarranted impulse to discard them.”

Under Hart’s proposed timeline, the review would run through the spring and into the summer, as the parties move through discovery, rebuttal and reply briefs, with the committee on track to announce a decision the week of July 12.

Both legal teams face a March 29 deadline to respond to their opponents’ initial briefs.

House Republicans and some Democrats criticize the contest

As the challenge progresses, Republicans across the country are increasingly criticizing the effort and pressuring vulnerable Democrats to weigh in on what GOP groups have painted as a hypocritical attempt to “steal” a congressional seat.

Politico has reported that some Democratic members of Congress are raising concerns about the case, warning that removing a sitting Congresswoman whose election was unanimously certified by a bipartisan board of state officials could cause “blowback in competitive districts” in 2022.

“Losing a House election by six votes is painful for Democrats. But overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America. Just because a majority can, does not mean a majority should,” tweeted Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn, on Monday.

Last week 9 of the 10 Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election penned a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decrying the challenge in Iowa’s 2nd.

“This action not only sets a dangerous precedent for future elections, it reinforces the false belief by many in our country that our election system is rigged and that certain politicians can change results to fit their whims,” the lawmakers argued.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter