I have previously written about the ongoing contest in the House over the election dispute involving Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks prevailed over Democrat Rita Hart by a margin of six votes out of nearly 400,000 ballots cast.
The election was subject of a mandatory recount of ballots in the counties which were within the district, and after the recount validated the original outcome — but with a much narrower margin — Miller-Meeks was certified the winner by the Iowa Secretary of State.
Hart did not file an election contest in Iowa state courts as provided for by Iowa state law. Her attorneys claim that the procedures and timeframe applicable to such a contest would not have allowed her claims to be adequately addressed.
Instead, she availed herself of a federal statute that allows a losing House candidate to file a petition in the House of Representatives itself challenging whether the winner as declared by the state actually received the most number of votes. That statute rests on the provision of the Constitution that gives the House authority to determine the eligibility of persons to serve as members.
Such a petition is referred to the House Committee on Administration. That committee conducts an investigation and votes on a recommendation to the full House. A vote of the full House then determines the outcome of the election contest raised by the petition.
The Committee on Administration is currently chaired by Rep. Zoe Lofgren from California, a longtime key lieutenant of Speaker Pelosi.
The approach is straight forward and the outcome really depends on nothing more than the willingness of the 220 House Democrats to muscle it through on a party-line vote.
Hart’s petition claims there are 22 ballots disallowed by Iowa election officials because of various defects in the way the ballots were cast. All were “mail-in” ballots.
The petition claims that if the votes reflected on those 23 ballots are counted, Hart would prevail in the race by 9 votes.
Where the question becomes partisan and controversial is that the House applies rules to resolving such a petition which include a provision that the House is not bound by the voting-counting procedures or rules established under Iowa law. So, as to the 23 disputed ballots, the House is free under its rules to count the votes on those ballots even though Iowa law says the votes are invalid and Iowa election officials followed Iowa law in not counting them.
Politico is reporting today that Pelosi and the House leadership have given the green light to Lofgren’s committee to recommend that the 22 ballots be included and that Hart is declared the winner.
But a source close to the process confirmed to Playbook that the effort to oust Miller-Meeks in favor of Hart has been blessed by the top echelons of House Democratic leadership. And the DCCC has brought in — and is paying the legal fees for — top Democratic election lawyer MARC ELIAS, this person said.
Elias, who helped fight dozens of Trump’s frivolous election law claims in court this winter, doesn’t wade into any old House race. His presence alone signals that Democratic leaders want to take this all the way and flip the seat into Democrats’ control.
But there is a strong suggestion in the article that this might once again be an instance where the Democrats’ focus on short-term political gains comes back to haunt them in the years ahead.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the effort to “steal” a House seat in a speech on the Senate floor and made it clear that this kind of exercise could comprise other election outcomes in the future. Iowa GOP Senator Joni Ernst suggested that the only current Democrat in the Iowa congressional delegation, Cindy Axne, would be put at risk in 2022 by the effort to award the 2020 election to Hart.
Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said in an interview that Hart’s challenge puts the only remaining Iowa Democrat in Congress — Axne — in “jeopardy.”
Ernst asked, “Where is Cindy Axne saying, ‘This is an outrage and the Iowa voters have spoken?’ ”
Axne’s spokesperson pointed CNN to a statement the congresswoman released in December. Axne said at the time that Hart has the “Constitutional and legal grounds to pursue” her case. “I support a transparent process that ensures every properly-cast vote in this contest is counted,” she added.
Axne is in only her second term in Congress. She was first elected in 2018 when the Democrats won 41 seats to recapture the House majority, prevailing over a GOP incumbent — and flipping a GOP seat — by a narrow 49.3 — 47.1% margin.
She was re-elected in 2020 in a re-match by an even smaller margin, 48.9 to 47.6.
With the GOP controlling both houses of the Iowa legislature, and the Iowa Governorship, redistricting before the 2022 election will certainly be engineered to strengthen the GOP’s chances in both districts.
Three of Iowa’s House races were competitive — with the winner in each prevailing by fewer than 11,000 votes out of approximately 400,000 that were cast.
But Iowa’s 4th Congressional District was won overwhelmingly by the GOP, by a margin of more than 90,000 votes.
It would not take a redistricting genius to determine how to redraw the current district maps in such a way as to take segments of the GOP voters in the 4th District and move them to the other three more competitive districts, while at the same time move some of the Democrat voters from the three competitive districts into the 4th District where their votes will not shift the outcome.
Beyond the redistricting that will likely result in Iowa, a move by the Democrats to impose a Hart victory by a party-line vote is not certain. Politico notes that not all Democrats in the House are committed to the idea simply for the purpose of increasing their majority from 4 to 5 votes.
Skittish moderates. There’s still a question of whether Democratic leaders can pull this off — in part because of their own skittish members. The House would have to vote on this, and in recent days, multiple Democrats have gone on record to express their reservations with overturning a state-certified election after blasting Trump for his shenanigans. On Fox News, Rep. DAVID PRICE(D-N.C.) said, “I don’t think there’s the slightest chance that that would happen.”
We’ve also spoken to Democrats in some of the most competitive House districts who do not want to vote on this. With a 219-211 majority, Pelosi couldn’t afford to lose more than a couple of votes if it reaches a floor vote.
As noted, Pelosi could not afford more than 1-2 defections. The current state of the House is that the Democrats have only 217 current members, with three vacant seats caused by members departing to join the Biden Administration. The Democrats are expected to hold those seats when special elections are completed, but those have not taken place yet.
But if more than 3-4 moderates express fear for their own re-elections in 2022 if they were to vote for Hart, that might end the effort before it can begin.