IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa asked the U.S. House on Thursday to dismiss an election contest filed by her Democratic challenger that argues the six-vote race was wrongly decided.
Miller-Meeks argued in a legal motion that the Democratic-controlled chamber should not consider Rita Hart's appeal because Hart did not contest the outcome under Iowa law. Longstanding House precedent in prior cases calls for contestants to take that step first, her lawyer Alan Ostergren argued.
"Rita Hart should have raised her claims before a neutral panel of Iowa judges rather than before a political process controlled by her own party,” Ostergren said.
Hart declined to challenge the result under Iowa law, saying it did not allow enough time to conduct additional recount proceedings. The law would have required a panel of judges to rule on challenges within days.
Instead, Hart filed a contest in December directly to the House under a 1969 law that spells out how congressional candidates can challenge elections that they believe were marred by serious irregularities.
Hart's attorneys claim they have identified 22 votes that were wrongly excluded due to errors, including 18 for Hart that would change the outcome if counted. They also want the House to examine thousands of ballots marked by machines as undervotes and overvotes that weren't visually inspected during the recount.
Miller-Meeks' filing agreed that Iowa law would have required a quick legal review but said that “was no excuse” for Hart's decision to skip it altogether.
The 22 ballots that Hart claims were wrongly rejected involve interpretations of state law that should have been decided by Iowa judges, the filing said. Additional votes for Miller-Meeks may also have been rejected “in the ordinary course of election administration,” it said.
Taking the extreme step of overturning a state-certified election would lead to a “parade of contests” in which losing candidates from the House majority's party will ask for intervention after close races, Ostergren warned.
The House decided earlier this month to provisionally swear in Miller-Meeks, pending the outcome of Hart's challenge. The two candidates had been competing to replace seven-term Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack in the southeastern Iowa district that has trended Republican in recent years.
The House Administration Committee will determine how to proceed, including whether to investigate or dismiss the case. A spokesman said it would closely review the filings from both campaigns, as required by law.
Hart said that she was disappointed by Miller-Meeks' motion, saying at least 22 voters would be disenfranchised without additional proceedings.
“It is crucial to me that this bipartisan review by the U.S. House is fair, and I hope our leaders will move swiftly to address this contest and ensure all votes are counted," she said.