There is a widely uncovered situation developing in the House of Representatives that has the potential to send huge shockwaves through Congress and throughout Washington, if the most radical left-wing faction of the House Democrats are allowed to have their way.
In Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, GOP candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by a mere 6 votes in a contest that included almost 400,000 votes cast. The final certified result was 196,964 to 196,958.
Miller-Meeks victory was certified by Iowa state officials after a recount. On January 4, House Speaker Pelosi allowed Miller-Meeks to be seated in the new Congress and take the oath of office.
The background of this race is worth mentioning. Miller-Meeks had run as the GOP candidate in this Iowa district three previous times -- 2008, 2010, and 2014 -- losing each time to the Democrat incumbent James Loebsack. The closest she came was a 52-47% loss in 2014. Loebsack held the seat for the Democrats from 2006 until he announced his retirement in 2019.
Iowa has shifted from a swing state to a GOP state since 2008. When Miller-Meeks was declared the winner of the November contest, it meant three of four Iowa House seats were now in GOP hands, as well as both Senate seats and the Governorship.
Throughout the post-election proceedings, Hart’s campaign claimed that Miller-Meeks has sought to prevent a small number of votes from being counted based on problems with how the absentee ballots were completed and/or sent in by otherwise eligible voters. Hart claims there are 22 such ballots, and if the votes were counted, Hart would win by 9 votes.
On election day, Miller-Meeks had an unofficial lead of 282 votes. When all the absentee ballots were counted and a few tabulation errors corrected, Miller-Meeks’ margin had been cut to just 47 votes. Hart then demanded a recount of all 24 Iowa counties in the district.
The peculiarities of Iowa election laws — similar to peculiarities of election laws in other states — significantly impacted the recount process and post-election challenges. Iowa law states that any recount must be completed within six days. Hart claimed that the six-day period was not enough time for all potentially valid votes to be identified and counted as part of the recount process.
Another Iowa law prohibits including, in a recount, any ballots not counted in the initial canvassing of votes after the election. Thus, “new” votes cannot be added.
As noted in the Des Moines Register editorial, the recount process itself was not “neat and tidy.” Each county in the district selected a Recount Board consisting of one representative from each party and a third Board member agreed upon by those two. The Boards in each county then engaged in the recount process of all votes cast in that county — but with no statewide standard on how that was to be accomplished. Some Boards agreed to a machine recount, while others engaged in hand recounts of each ballot. When the recounts were complete; Miller-Meeks was declared the winner by 6 votes.
There is a process for appealing an election outcome through the Iowa state courts. Hart chose not to file any such appeal. Under Iowa law, any such court proceeding would need to be completed by December 8, and Hart claimed that an election contest involving 400,000 votes cast, with a margin of only six votes, could not be investigated and litigated in the time period authorized by Iowa law. By opting to bypass the Iowa courts, Hart chose to not engage in a process that would have had neutral arbitrators examine the fairness of the procedures employed by the County Election Boards — with Iowans resolving issues involving Iowa law.
Instead, Hart filed a petition with the House of Representatives pursuant to the Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969. The effort is being spearheaded by Democrat party election law specialist Mark Elias.
That statute, 2 U.S.C. Sec. 381 provides that a losing candidate can file a challenge of the qualifications of a House member — in this case, Miller-Meeks — which is then assigned to the Committee on House Administration to investigate. Last week the Administration Committee took its first action on the Petition when it finalized the process it will use to proceed on Hart’s claim.
Miller-Meeks has filed a motion to dismiss the petition, which the Committee has not yet acted upon. Denying the motion would signal that the Committee is going to begin an investigation into Hart’s claims. Under the statute, the Committee conducts an investigation. It can hear from witnesses, accept documentary evidence, conduct interviews in Iowa, and even conduct a recount of all the ballots on its own to come up with its own final vote tally.
This is where the pernicious aspect of the process comes into play. In conducting their own count of the ballots, the House Democrats who have majority control of the committee can fashion their own standards as to what constitutes a valid vote, and in the process, ignore the standards established by Iowa law and court precedent. Ultimately, it is not a vote of the Committee, but a vote of the entire House that determines the outcome of the Petition.
The Democrats currently have a four-seat advantage in the House, with membership being a “zero-sum” game — every loss of the majority results in an increase in the minority. The Speaker position is a function of majority rule and can change during the course of a Congressional session if the majority changes.
By a simple party-line vote, the House Democrats can opt to count the 22 ballots not allowed by Iowa election officials, and then declare Rita Hart to be the winner of the election for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.
Never happen? Well, the Democrats did exactly that 35 years ago in a contested election in Indiana. The Tip O’Neill-led House Democrat Majority opted to seat losing freshman incumbent Democrat Frank McClosky, rather than GOP challenger Richard McIntyre, who had been certified the winner by the Indiana election officials. When the new Congress was initially seated in early January, a recount process was still underway in Indiana, and the House voted not to seat either candidate. In early February, the recount was complete, and McIntrye was certified the winner. But when the Republicans forced a vote to seat him, the Democrat majority voted against and referred the matter to the Administration Committee to investigate the election. A federal recount, conducted by the General Accounting Office declared McClosky to be the winner — by only 4 votes.
The Republicans forced a vote on whether to hold a new election, but on a party-line vote, the Democrats denied the motion and then voted to seat McClosky. The Republicans staged a walk-out of the House chamber rather than participate in the second vote.
Is the Pelosi-led House prepared to follow the example set by the Democrat majority in 1984? In 1984, the Democrats enjoyed a 252-181 majority in the House. Seating McClosky rather than McIntrye meant nothing other than protecting the career of an incumbent freshman member. McClosky went on to win re-election five more times after 1984.
The stakes for Pelosi and the Democrats this year are much higher because Hart, rather than Miller-Meeks, adds 25% to the “margin” that the Democrats are currently working with. Having a five-seat majority rather than a four-seat majority doesn’t seem like much — until three more Democrats are forced to leave the House for one reason or another.
And the Democrats can certainly count on a friendly press to report the story on the basis that all Hart wanted from the process was to make sure that every vote was counted — at least up to the point where she takes the lead, as was the case with McCloskey in 1984.
Then the counting must stop. What will the GOP do if this happens?