After some pre-election excitement, Democrats didn’t do as well as many expected in Iowa this year. Polls showing Joe Biden and Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield in very close races turned out to be off; Biden lost Iowa to Donald Trump by eight points and Greenfield lost to Joni Ernst by six points. Freshman Democratic congresswoman Abby Finkenauer also lost a close race to Ashley Hinson in northeast Iowa’s 1st district.
But Iowa Democrats hoped on Election Night to salvage a win in southeast Iowa’s 2nd congressional district, an open seat held by retiring Democrat Dave Loebsack. After all the votes were counted, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks led Democrat Rita Hart by 47 votes. A subsequent recount pared the Republican’s lead to six votes and the state canvassing board promptly certified her as the winner.
There were a significant number of issues that can’t be explored under Iowa election law, notably “overvotes” or “undervotes” of ballots with suspicious dual votes or zero votes for a particular office, and some ballots excluded from the initial count without later examination. So Hart’s campaign chose not to challenge the results in state courts, but instead will make its case in Washington to the House, which ultimately controls access to its own membership. The Associated Press explains:
An election contest in Iowa would have set in motion the formation of a five-judge panel that would have been required to rule on who won the race by Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Hart’s campaign said that quick timeline would not allow enough time to review all the ballots, including thousands of unexamined undervotes and overvotes and a small number of others that were not counted for a variety of reasons.
Instead, the campaign said that Hart would file an election contest with the U.S. House under the Federal Contested Elections Act in the coming weeks.
Such a filing, due within 30 days after Monday’s certification, will trigger a proceeding in front of the House Committee on Administration that would allow Hart to gather testimony and evidence.
Republicans, of course, are squawking that Hart is seeking a partisan thumb on the scales in the Democratic-controlled House, conveniently ignoring the Republican control of Iowa’s state-election machinery. But it’s not as though the House routinely changes election results: The last time that happened was in 1985, when a Democratic candidate from Indiana who had lost by four votes was seated by the House after an investigation. The House will also have the option of seating Miller-Meeks pending its inquiry.
The bottom line is that this was essentially an electoral tie, and although both sides have grounds to contest the results, it was too close for anyone to express righteous indignation over further inquiry.