Opinion: Democrats Move on Iowa’s Second District

Rita Hart answers a question during a debate with Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Oct. 8, 2020.


Rebecca F. Miller/Associated Press

Democrats have been talking a lot these past few weeks about the sanctity of election results, but their principles on that score may be malleable based on who wins. This week a House committee took the first step in what looks like an effort to unseat the Republican Member for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional district and install a Democrat instead.

GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks

won the November race by 47 votes in the first count and six votes after lawyers wrangled over ballots in a recount. Democrat

Rita Hart

wants the House to use its constitutional authority as “judge of the elections” of its Members to impose another recount and reverse the outcome.

The last time the House reversed a state-certified election result was in Indiana’s “bloody eighth” congressional district in 1985, and the last time it replaced a sitting Member with his opponent was in 1938. In both cases the House was under Democratic control.

Ms. Hart’s brief to the Committee on House Administration claims that 22 ballots should have been counted but weren’t. Ms. Miller-Meeks replied that the challenge should be dismissed because Ms. Hart declined in December to raise her complaints in a special Iowa court designed to resolve contested elections.

On Wednesday the committee’s Democratic majority sided with Ms. Hart and “tabled” Ms. Miller-Meeks’s motion to dismiss. Remarks from the committee chair,

Rep. Zoe Lofgren

of California, suggest Democrats are prepared to see the process through to their desired outcome.

Ms. Lofgren said “the American people deserve to know who actually won this election,” as if the outcome had not already been certified by a 5-0 vote of Iowa’s state elections board composed of three Republicans and two Democrats. The precursor to the Committee on House Administration had held that results are “presumed to be correct until they are impeached by proof of irregularity and fraud.”

But now the committee seems intent on a third count of ballots, this time with Democrats in Washington making the rules. It asked the two parties to list any ballots they think should have been included or excluded. That invites Ms. Hart’s lawyers to introduce more ballot claims they think will favor their side, and forces Ms. Miller-Meeks to do the same though she is already a legally elected Representative.

Ms. Hart’s attorneys had the chance to take complaints before a five-judge contest court in Iowa that could have applied state law on issues like ballot signatures and seals. If House Democrats wanted to avoid inserting themselves into an after-the-vote-is-counted election dispute, they would have said merely that the state process had to be respected.

That imperative ought to have been especially evident after Jan. 6. But Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

said Thursday that a full House vote reversing the outcome was a possibility. Democrats may not have the large majorities they had in 1985 and 1938, but their current narrow majority is united, willful and determined.

The party is on the precipice of creating a precedent, for the first time in a generation, that a partisan majority in Congress can disregard state officials and redo a close election count according to its own preferences. All their high-minded talk about respecting the voters seems to apply only when

Donald Trump

is challenging the results. This blatant Democratic power play would inspire more partisan bitterness—and further erode voter faith in elections.

Correction: A previous version said Rita Hart represented Iowa’s 2nd congressional district before 2021.

Potomac Watch: Democrats cast aside concerns over mail-in and absentee ballots this week to vote for H.R.1, surrendering the right of their own states to set election rules. Image: Lenin Nolly/Zuma Wire

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Appeared in the March 13, 2021, print edition.

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