DemDaily: Six Votes

March 15, 2021

While the partisan legislative battles wage on in Congress, there is still one unsettled election challenge that may soon take center stage.

Last week the House Administration Committee voted to allow the challenge in Iowa's Second Congressional District to move forward, setting up a showdown for control of the closest federal election in almost four decades.

Historically, the little-used option of appealing to the House has resulted in the dismissal of cases. Nearly 600 contested election cases have been filed before the House in its history, and in the last century, the candidate who contested the election has only won five times. The last time the House overturned a certified election result was in 1984.

In the Hawkeye State's 2nd CD, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner November 30th over Democrat Rita Hart by a six-vote margin following a recount.

50% to 50% with a six-vote margin (KCRG)

Miller-Meeks was provisionally sworn in January 3rd, but Hart has filed a challenge of the results that will now be settled in the House of Representatives.

On November 3, 2020, Miller-Meeks held a 47-vote margin over Hart in the Iowa City-based district held by retiring incumbent Congressman Dave Loebsack (D) since 2007.

On November 30th, election officials in Iowa certified Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks after a recount showed her as the winner in the tightest race in the country, and one of the closest in federal history.

Hart, a former state senator, argued the recount was marred by errors and inconsistencies in how ballots were reviewed from county to county, resulting in thousands of ballots with recorded undervotes and overvotes not being examined for voter intent.

(Iowa's 2nd CD)

On December 22nd, Hart officially contested the election results to the US House Administration Committee. In the "notice of contest" filed with the House, Hart's campaign claims it has identified "at least 22 lawful ballots" that were incorrectly excluded from the count. The majority of those votes, but not all, were for the Democrat. In the 176-page challenge, Hart includes affidavits from those involved in the counting process, as well as from voters.

On January 21, 2021, Congresswoman Marianette Miller-Meeks filed a motion with the Committee to dismiss Hart's petition.

On February 19th, the House Administration Committee unanimously approved procedures to hear the Second District challenge, and on March 10th, voted 6-3, to table Miller-Meeks' motion "until the Committee considers the merits of this contested election case."

The US Constitution, as affirmed by the US Supreme Court, requires each House of Congress to be the "Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members."
The Federal Contested Elections Act further provides a procedural framework for candidates wishing to contest their elections to the House.

Next Steps
The committee will now consider the evidence in support of Hart's petition and make a report and recommendation to the full House.

Hart's filing asks the Democratic-led House to nullify the state-certified results, count the excluded ballots and conduct a uniform hand recount in the district's 24 counties.

The 1984 election was decided by four votes (Twitter)

Although the timing of the committee's investigation is undetermined, it sets the stage for the most significant debate of its kind since the famous 1984 election for Indiana's "Bloody" 8th District -- which played out dramatically in the halls of the US House of Representatives.

McCloskey v McIntyre
On election night, 1984, first-term Democrat Frank McCloskey led challenger Richard McIntyre by 72 votes in the contest for Indiana's 8th District.

Tabulation errors, however, resulted in an adjustment to the count in two precincts, placing McIntyre as the winner by 34 votes. Indiana's Republican Secretary of State quickly certified McIntyre, without investigating other counties.

After a partial recount, McIntyre was up by 418 votes, but House Democrats argued that 4,800 citizens had been disenfranchised after their ballots were declared invalid under Indiana's strict election laws. Those included a sizable number of African American voters in the urban parts of the swing district.

Tom Brokaw reported on the final vote and Republican WalkOut (Twitter)

When McIntyre arrived on Capitol Hill on January 3, 1985, Democrats refused to seat him, and the House voted 238 to 177, along strict party lines, to keep the seat vacant pending a congressional investigation by a House task force. A new recount by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) was ordered, including ballots previously thrown out by Indiana election officials due to "technicalities" and "irregularities."

In late April, the task force determined that McCloskey had won by four votes, setting off a revolt by the GOP, which kept the House in session all night to prevent the chamber from conducting any business for three days.

Nevertheless, on May 1, 1985, after months of bitter wrangling, the House voted 236-190, largely along partisan lines, to seat McCloskey. In response, Republican House members marched out of the chamber in symbolic protest, boycotting McCloskey's swearing-in.

On Sunday's This Week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the Second District challenge, "What the committee did, the House Administration Committee, was very narrow to take the process to the next step and see where it goes from there...This is not unique...Even Justice Scalia agreed that the House has the authority to seat members, and therefore we can count the votes. Six votes out of 400,000 cast.
For (the GOP) to call anybody hypocritical about elections when two-thirds of them in the House voted against accepting the presidency of Joe Biden is -- well, it's just who they are."

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: KCCI, NBCNews, The Atlantic, New York Times, CRS, Ballotpedia, Studies in American Political Development, Marietta Daily Journal, AP

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