Rita Hart withdraws challenge to Iowa House race result

Decision will end deliberations at the House Administration Committee

Former Iowa State Senator Rita Hart is dropping her complaint about the election in Iowa's second district. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Iowa State Senator Rita Hart is dropping her complaint about the election in Iowa's second district. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 31, 2021 at 4:54pm, Updated at 5:27pm

Democrat Rita Hart is dropping her challenge of the election results in Iowa’s 2nd District, solidifying the victory of Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

“After many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest, I have made the decision to withdraw my contest before the House Committee on Administration,” Hart said in a statement. “Since Election Day, and throughout this entire process, my mission has been about ensuring the voices of Iowans who followed the law are not silenced. I am saddened that some Iowans’ votes will not count through no fault of their own. The work of ensuring it does not happen again will continue beyond this campaign.”

Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner over Hart by six votes, but Democrats questioned the validity of the outcome and a formal complaint from Hart has been under consideration at the House Administration Committee. Miller-Meeks was sworn in on Jan. 3.

House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said her panel will recommend that the issue be disposed of in light of Hart’s withdrawal.

“There being no contestant, there is no longer a contest, and the Committee will, accordingly, recommend that the whole House dispose of the contest and adopt a dismissal resolution reported out by the Committee,” Lofgren said in a statement Wednesday.

“From the day she announced her candidacy, Rita Hart has shown that she is a tireless advocate for the people of Iowa. I respect her decision and applaud her efforts to ensure that every legal vote was counted in this election. I know her service and commitment to Iowans won’t end here,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York said in a statement.

In the challenge, Hart suggested that 22 ballots that should have been counted were not tallied. It is ultimately the responsibility of the House itself to resolve such election challenges, and the House Administration panel voted along party lines earlier in March to continue gathering information.

Hart’s announcement came the same day House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy visited Iowa to call attention to the race. The California Republican held a press conference with Miller-Meeks.  

The Republican leader dismissed questions about the 22 voters who say their ballots weren’t counted, the argument behind Hart’s challenge. “It’s interesting how the person who lost this race picks certain ballots,” McCarthy said. “This race had been counted on Election Day and after. This race went to a recount. So they dealt with those 22. This race went to a bipartisan election board that voted unanimously and decided. I don’t think there's any other question about [it]. The race is over.”

Miller-Meeks, who spoke alongside McCarthy at the press conference, also defended the process. “We have elections and people need to have trust and faith and confidence in their elections,” she said.

Miller-Meeks also repeated her argument that Hart should have gone to court to further challenge the results if she disagreed with the state’s certification. “Think about this: You or I, ordinary citizens, if we had a grievance, we’d have to go to court to settle that grievance,” she said. “We couldn’t go to a member of Congress and say, 'You know, I didn't like the results they counted and recounted and recounted but it didn't come out the way I want, so can a partisan, political process, body overturn that result?' And that's what's happening here.”

McCarthy struggled to answer questions about why Hart should not be able to contest her race in the House given that it’s a path afforded to her under federal law that other House candidates who’ve lost by more significant margins have used over the years.

He argued, falsely, that Democrats changed the process for the House Administration Committee’s review to put burden on Miller-Meeks to prove why she won instead of on Hart.

The House Administration Committee had requested briefs from both candidates and had not outlined any new procedures for making a decision.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeatedly defended the House Administration Committee process amid GOP claims that she was just trying to boost her majority.

She never advocated for a specific outcome but left open the possibility that the House could overturn the certified results if the panel's review produced evidence that merited doing so.

On a press call last week, Pelosi dismissed assertions that Democrats were coming out in opposition to unseating Miller-Meeks but said they did not seem to have a good grasp of the process, as she pointed to a statement Lofgren put out to reiterate the law and precedent.

“And I would say to them: If you lost by six votes, would you like to have — would you like to bring your case before [the committee]?” she said.

Pelosi also claimed she had been fair to both sides in the process because she chose to seat Miller-Meeks at the start of the Congress despite members of her caucus who urged her not to amid Hart’s challenge.

“People said, ‘Why should we seat somebody to have votes for all this time when their election is being contested?’” Pelosi said. “And we said, ‘No, we will seat the member, and then we'll go through the normal process.’ But it would have been under the rules allowable for me to say, ‘We’re not seating the member from Iowa.’ We did not do that. So, I want credit for that.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee still planned to highlight the Iowa contest in campaigns going forward.

“We won’t let voters forget that Democrats will do whatever they can to subvert democracy if given the opportunity,” NRCC spokesman Mike Berg said in a statement.

Republicans criticized Democrats for continuing the challenge. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, compared the situation to the handling of objections to the results of the Electoral College that showed a victory for President Joe Biden.

“When objections were raised to counting certain states’ electoral votes based on questioning state-certified elections, I voted against overturning those elections,” Grassley said last week on the Senate floor. “My position remains the same with respect to the state-certified election of Rep. Miller-Meeks, who now ably represents Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.”

In the House, more than 130 House Republicans voted to support objections to the Electoral College votes of at least one state.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.