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Iowa’s 2nd District may have no representative for months due to challenge

Indiana contest in 1985 provides glimpse into what’s next
Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 10:57 AM CST
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Using a similar case from 1985 as an example, Iowa’s Second District may not be represented in Congress for months as Democrat Rita Hart challenges her 6-vote deficit to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

It will be up to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to decide if Miller-Meeks or anyone is sworn-in to replace retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack on January 3rd. Iowa certified Miller-Meeks as the winner of that contest but, in a filing on Tuesday, Hart issued a challenge to that result to the U.S. House of Representatives citing several specific instances of uncounted, legal votes.

A similar challenge to an Indiana House race in 1985 provides a glimpse of what might come next. THat race faced a similar challenge to the U.S. House of Representatives and ultimately flipped the outcome of the election.

Several Republicans, including Miller-Meeks, protested Hart’s move as “ignoring Iowa law”. Rep.-Elect Ashley Hinson argued “the Constitution provides a clear path for addressing any concerns: the courts.”

However, while an appeal in state court was an option to the Hart campaign, court rulings are not required nor binding and it is ultimately the U.S. House that would have the final say in a contested election, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“The U.S. Supreme Court held that under this provision of the Constitution, the final determination of the right to a seat in Congress in an elections case is not reviewable by the courts because it is “a non-justiciable political question,” and that each House of Congress in judging the elections of its own Members has the right under the Constitution to make “an unconditional and final judgment,” the guidance on contesting elections states.

The Miller-Meeks campaign clarified that it sees the appeal to the U.S. House as a last resort that brings politics into play. It argues an appeal to a panel of non-partisan Iowa judges, while not legally required, would have been a more prudent step before appealing to the Democrat-controlled House. The Hart campaign had earlier argued there was not enough time to argue its case in an Iowa courtroom.

The Congressional Research Service says the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969 prescribes the procedures for challenging the election of a member of Congress.

Rep. Frank McCloskey’s re-election bid in 1984 used the same Act to challenge his initial loss to Republican Rick McIntyre. Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State certified McIntyre won that election. A recount showed him leading by 418 votes but with thousands of other ballots uncounted for technical reasons. McCloskey appealed and the Democrat-controlled House refused to seat anyone until after it held it’s own investigation and recount. That recount ultimately found McCloskey had won the election and he was sworn in May 1985, 5 months after the session had started.

The Hart campaign declined to speculate on how long a challenge might take or whether the House would decide to seat anyone while the challenge is ongoing. Miller-Meeks has up to 30-days to file a response to Hart’s challenge. Then, the Committee on House Administration would decide whether to open an investigation.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Iowa courts are an option to appeal an election contest but are not a required step nor do state courts have the final say in a contested federal election, per the Federal Contested Elections Act.

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