WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) - Democrat Rita Hart's campaign says a handful of voters in Iowa's Second Congressional District did everything right when casting their ballots, but their votes were not counted and thrown out by election workers. Republican Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Hart by six votes.
In an interview with KWWL anchor Ron Steele on Sunday morning's edition of the Steele Report, Hart said she has evidence that 22 legally cast ballots were not counted. The campaign argues there are enough votes to overturn the outcome of the election.
"Of these 22 ballots, 18 of them were cast for me, 3 were cast for the Miller-Meeks campaign, and one did not vote in this race," Hart told Steele. "Again it just underscores that when we look at this, we want to make sure every vote counts."
Hart has filed a 'Notice of Contest' with the House Administration Committee. She is asking the house to investigate and overturn the election results.
Hart argues the 22 ballots were wrongly excluded, and others were not examined during the recount. She is asking the U.S. House to count those votes and conduct another district-wide recount. She chose to go straight to the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, bypassing Iowa's court system.
On Sunday, Dr. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated while the House committee reviews the Hart campaign's challenge.
"It is regrettable my opponent did not go through the Iowa courts. They could certainly have addressed 22 ballots and made a decision on this," Miller-Meeks told KWWL Saturday. "She used the legal processes that were available to her, and while we go through these in the interim time, people need to know that they have a representative and that representative is not gonna quit working for them."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she would provisionally seat Miller-Meeks while the committee reviews Hart's challenge.
"The glue was not good enough and didn't seal"
In her challenge, Hart lays out several cases where votes were legally cast but not counted. In a press conference on Wednesday put on by the Hart campaign, a handful of those voters explained what happened to their ballots.
Most of the issues revolve around getting the ballots inside or sealing the ballot envelopes.
University of Iowa student Trajae Lackland said he had issues with the glue on the envelopes.
“This was my first time voting, and I was really excited," he said. “It really hurts my heart that I didn't get to vote.”
The campaign says it wasn't counted because of a mistake by election officials. When he voted in-person in Iowa City, Lackland said the glue seemed dry and his tongue stuck to the envelope. He pressed down to seal it and went on his way. He didn't realize his ballot was not counted until Democratic party officials showed up at his home to inform him.
"When people say my vote doesn't count, this is a prime example," Lackland said. "This example should be displayed and to be showed to places to show how important it is to vote."
Mike Overholt said Johnson County election officials threw out his ballot for not being properly sealed. He said he placed the ballot in the envelope and returned it to the county auditor before election day.
"The glue was not good enough and didn't seal," Overholt said. "I was really disappointed when I heard that this was the reason why my ballot wasn't counted, just because of the number of sacrifices and arrangements we made to try to get this to take part in the vote. I especially want my vote to count because I did it legally.”
Sadie Rhomberg, who is a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, requested an absentee ballot for November's election. When she got it, she said it was already sealed shut.
"When I got it, it was already sealed probably from the rain or something," Rhomberg said.
Rhomberg said she unsealed the envelope, placed her ballot inside, and then resealed it using tape. She said she had her mother ask the Johnson County auditor's office if the ballot would still count. While Rhomberg's mother said Johnson County election officials assured her it would, the ballot was rejected because it was not properly sealed.
"I was pretty disappointed because voting is very important to me as a woman and as an American citizen," Rhomberg said.
Scott County voter Jo Donna Loetz said she accidentally ripped her envelope while voting. She asked precinct workers if her ballot would still be counted and was assured it would be.
“The election person called the auditor’s office and asked whether or not my ballot would be counted," she said. "The poll worker told me that my ballot would be counted, so I said thank you and left the building and thought everything was good.”
Poll workers promised her she would be contacted and have a chance to fix her ballot if it was no good. She said she received a call on election day saying that her ballot was rejected. She then went back to her precinct, where once again, she was re-assured her ballot was fine.
“I want my vote to be counted," Loetz said. "I had voted ever since I've been 18 years old, and I think it's my right to do that. I want certain people in the offices, so I think something should be done."
All of the cases are among the 22 ballots listed in Hart's official challenge.
"If they're saying all the votes are counted but there are 20 votes that haven't been counted; that doesn't make sense," Lackland said. "They're legal votes. How are you going to tell 20 people who voted or sent absentee ballots that they didn't vote?"
For her part, Miller-Meeks said she is more worried about her constituents' issues than the ongoing challenge by Hart.
Miller-Meeks re-iterated Saturday that she believes Iowa's election process is the gold standard and should serve as an example to other states.
"People should know that every legal ballot was counted," she said. "We have a process of elections that are very fair in Iowa and very regimented in code so that people know what they have to do. I would think that we can be a model for anyone looking at any investigations into other states or election processes at the federal level, to make people know that their votes count and that they're secure."
A 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service found most contested election cases have been dismissed. Between 1933 and 2009, 107 contested election cases came before the house. In three cases, the candidate who contested the results won.
The most recent case involved then-incumbent Indiana Democratic Representative Frank McCloskey in 1984. Despite losing in the certified election results, McCloskey appealed to the Democratically-controlled House. The house voted to give McCloskey the win after a house committee recounted the votes.
On Wednesday, Miller-Meeks resigned from her Iowa State Senate seat ahead of her provisional swearing-in on Sunday. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has set a January 26 date for a special election to fill the seat.