Rita Hart’s decision to go to the U.S. House of Representatives to challenge the result in Iowa’s ultra-close 2nd District congressional race is disappointing.
We wish she had gone first to the five-person judicial panel outlined in state law for such challenges. Turning to Congress was, at the least, premature.
Hart’s campaign said last week it bypassed the judicial panel because it believes it wouldn’t have had adequate time to make sure all legitimate votes were counted given its Dec. 8 deadline to make a decision.
We get that, but we believe the alternative is potentially worse.
This race could hardly have been any closer. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks was certified the winner Nov. 30 by a mere 6 votes out of more than 394,000 votes cast.
Meanwhile, the recount that’s taken place the past two weeks has revealed the imperfections that have always existed in running elections involving hundreds of thousands of votes.
Unfortunately, in a race this close, those imperfections are magnified and potentially decisive. An example: There is a 131-vote discrepancy between the votes tallied by the Scott County recount board and the number certified by the county board of supervisors. The Hart campaign says there are issues in other counties, too.
How are those issues sorted out? And who makes those calls?
We think it should be Iowans, not politicians in Washington, D.C.
The route Hart is taking is clearly legal. The U.S. Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to judge the "elections, returns, and qualifications" of its own members. A federal statute also sets out a procedure for challenges.
We’d like to think the process in the House, which is controlled by Democrats, would be fair to all. But that is a lot to hope for given the stakes. We wouldn’t expect Republicans to trust the House any more than Democrats would if the shoe were on the other foot.
This is difficult for us. We endorsed Rita Hart, and there are legitimate questions about whether every vote was counted in this race. But by turning to the House, this has injected a greater level of partisanship into the process, which is unfortunate.
Republicans in Iowa, including Miller-Meeks, Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, have objected to Hart’s move. Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann accused Hart of trying to "steal" the seat.
That’s rich, given President Trump has gone to court in multiple states asking judges to overturn legally certified results in a presidential race where the margins are much greater than in this case. These Iowa Republicans haven't spoken out against those challenges.
We are not sure how the House will resolve Hart’s challenge, which hasn’t even been filed yet. We are disappointed, however, at this turn of events. Bottom line: Iowa’s congressional representatives ought to be chosen by Iowans, and when there are disputes over how the state’s elections are conducted, we prefer those issues to be settled in Iowa, not Washington, D.C.