Contested Iowa House seat will go to the GOP for now, Pelosi says

Miller-Meeks won Iowa's 2nd District by just six votes after a recount

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, candidate for Iowa's 2nd District who appears to have won by six votes, is expected to be seated at the beginning of the 117th Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mariannette Miller-Meeks, candidate for Iowa's 2nd District who appears to have won by six votes, is expected to be seated at the beginning of the 117th Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 30, 2020 at 1:57pm

Even as a House panel weighs a Democrat’s petition to count additional votes, Iowa Republican Rep.-elect Mariannette Miller-Meeks will be sworn in with the new Congress this weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.

Miller-Meeks appeared to flip the state's 2nd District back to red after a state recount declared her the winner by just six votes over Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart. Hart contested the results, asking that ballots not included in the Iowa recount be considered. The petition is being reviewed by the House Administration Committee.

After Pelosi said at a news conference that Miller-Meeks would be seated, spokesman Drew Hammill followed up that Miller-Meeks will be “provisionally” seated when the 117th Congress is sworn in on Sunday, “pending the outcome of the Committee’s review and consistent with House practice.”

The Democratic majority in the House narrowed significantly in November as 12 incumbents lost while the party's only gains came in two open seats in North Carolina and one in Georgia. Democratic New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi also is still fighting in a court-supervised recount with former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney.

As a result, Democrats would hold just 222 seats when the House convenes Sunday, and three members are due to join the administration of President-elect Joe Biden. With Miller-Meeks, the GOP would hold 211 seats, with a vacancy in Louisiana's 5th District following the death Tuesday of GOP Rep.-elect Luke Letlow.

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Under the Constitution, the House itself is the final judge on the elections and qualifications of members. Hart's petition with the House Administration Committee relied on a 1969 law laying out procedures for contesting state election results.

Her appeal requested the panel consider 22 ballots that she contends were legally cast but not included in the initial canvass. Her petition says Iowa law did not allow them to be considered in the recount, but if they had been, Hart would have won by 18 votes.

"Twenty-two voters in Iowa’s Second Congressional District still have not had their legally-cast votes counted and thousands of other voters have not had their ballots examined," Hart said in a statement Wednesday. "I look forward to a complete review of the election."

One disputed ballot involved a voter who cast her absentee ballot in a drop box in the wrong county.

Krystal Klawonn, a student in Cedar Rapids who provided a sworn affidavit as part of the challenge, said she deposited the ballot in an election drop box in Linn County before Election Day. But it was rejected later by officials in Wapello County, where Klawonn was registered, as being untimely submitted.

The Hart campaign contends that “Iowa law does not specify that the envelope must be returned to the commissioners office where the voter resides.”

The House hasn't overturned a state-certified election result since after the 1984 elections.

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the ranking Republican on the House Administration panel, had been among those calling on the speaker to allow Miller-Meeks to be seated.

“The Speaker's narrow margin, which could be as few as seven, should not be a factor when considering whether or not to seat a member-elect,” he said in a statement earlier Wednesday. “Rep.-elect Miller-Meeks has been certified the winner by the State of Iowa and her constituents deserve to have her representing them immediately in the new Congress.”

Niels Lesniewski and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.