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The Election That Just Won't Die

Wooden judge gavel, legal book, letters vote and numbers 2020. Concept of election in year 2020.
By Andrew Leonatti on March 23, 2021 7:30 AM

The 2020 election just won't quit. Accusations of foul play keep coming, with partisans arguing that they must do something. They have to use every legal method at their disposal to achieve the desired result, despite what the voters want.

No, not that election, silly. The race in Iowa's Second Congressional District!

Every Vote Counts

In the closest U.S. House race of 2020, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes out of 394,439 votes cast. After a recount, the bipartisan Iowa Board of Canvass unanimously certified Miller-Meeks' win on November 30.

Miller-Meeks was sworn in with the rest of the Congress on January 3.

Hart contends that the dismissal of 22 ballots for various reasons — a misplaced signature, a taped ballot envelope, a miscounted absentee ballot box — cost her the election.

Can Anybody Just Contest Anything These Days?!

Unlike another 2020 candidate who filed lawsuit after lawsuit contesting the election's results, Hart filed no court challenges.

Instead, she filed a notice of contest with the Committee on House Administration — which contains six Democratic and three Republican members.

"So an election loser can just appeal to the body they wanted to join?" you might be asking yourself. If that body is the U.S. Congress, the answer is yes.

The U.S. Constitution grants the Senate and House the power to serve as "the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members." Court rulings further clarified that the House or Senate's judgment on contested elections to their respective chambers is final. Since the matter is a political question, the courts have no role.

The Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969 sets out the rules for challenging House elections (we're not even going to try to understand how the Senate conducts its business). Hart filing her notice of contest is the first step.

Lawyers for Miller-Meeks and Hart will file their initial briefs with the committee soon. What comes next will unfold similarly to a legal proceeding. There will be discovery, more filings, hearings, and consideration of evidence by the committee. The committee will adopt a resolution that goes to the full House for a vote. The resolution can recommend:

  • Dismissing the challenge
  • Holding a new election
  • Seating the candidate that filed the challenge
  • Vacating the seat until a full investigation takes place, which may include a recount

The filer, in this case, Hart, has the burden of proof to produce evidence warranting the changing of the election result.

We Must Protect This House!

According to the House Administration Committee, there have been 110 challenges filed since 1933, with the House seating three challengers and vacating a seat once.

This time around, Republicans argue that Hart's move to overturn the election results should've gone through the courts first.

"Our focus is on the fact that we have a certificate of election, and that there was a process that Hart could have chosen that was based on law, administered by judges, that she bypassed in favor of one administered by her own political party," said Miller-Meeks attorney Alan Ostergren.

"Rita Hart and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi are trying to subvert Democracy," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg.

Not content to let Republicans be the only ones to murder irony and salt the earth behind them, Democrats argue that they're just following the legal procedures that the law allows.

"Federal law provides that this contest is the proper avenue to ensure that all legal ballots are counted and we have presented credible evidence to support their inclusion in the final tally," said Hart's lawyer Marc Elias, who was instrumental in defeating another failed candidate's frivolous 2020 lawsuits.

Maybe by 2030 we'll have the full 2020 results.

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