Capitol Ideas: Election challenge ends, but issues remain

The drama is over, but the discussion needs to continue.

The 2020 election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District were officially, and at long last, settled last week when Democrat Rita Hart dropped her challenge of the results.

To recap: In an open-seat race, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks edged Hart by just six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast in the southeastern Iowa district, according to state certified results. However, Hart’s campaign challenged the results in the U.S. House after it said it discovered 22 ballots that were legally cast but not counted in the final tally due to myriad reasons, including mistakes by elections officials. Republicans argued — vociferously — that the move amounted to a political power grab, since Democrats have a majority in the U.S. House, and that Hart should have contested the results in Iowa courts. Hart’s campaign noted Iowa law does not permit enough time.

That debate went on for months as a U.S. House committee began consideration of Hart’s challenge, even as it had seated Miller-Meeks.

Finally, nearly five months after the election and just days after her campaign’s legal team filed its latest briefings, Hart dropped her challenge. Thus ended the 2020 2nd District election. Miller-Meeks will finish the two-year term.

But this should not be the end of the discussion about what happened in the 2nd District.

Regardless of how one feels about how Hart’s campaign chose to challenge the results, the fact is that 22 Iowans cast ballots and yet those votes were not counted.

That is a problem, and that it’s a problem is not a point for debate.

Iowa lawmakers have not yet concluded their work for the 2021 legislative session. They should not go home without at least beginning the discussion about how this situation can be avoided in future elections. It’s not critical that legislation pass this year, because there will be another session in 2022 before the next statewide election that fall. But this issue should be on lawmakers’ radar.

Iowans who cast their ballot legally should not have to worry that it will not wind up in the final tally. And if it doesn’t, state law needs to contain a legal and expedient recourse.

This type of issue is exactly why we have elected leaders. And if state lawmakers in Iowa can pass huge elections bills that, at least in some portions, address no current election-related problems — like reducing the early voting period — surely legislators can design and approve legislation that solves an actual problem.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

Capitol Ideas: Election challenge ends, but issues remain