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Hart and Miller-Meeks race tightens as recounts finish

A razor-thin margin separating the Republican and Democrat candidates for an open southeast Iowa congressional seat continues to narrow as counties complete their recount of votes in what could become a single-digit race.

Republican State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks held a slim, 36-vote lead out or more than 394,400 votes cast in the Iowa 2nd congressional district race as of Tuesday morning.

Miller-Meeks, of Ottumwa, had led Democrat Rita Hart, of Wheatland, by 47 votes in unofficial results before recounts began last week in what has become the closest federal race in the country.

None of the four counties Hart carried had reported new totals, including Scott, Johnson and Clinton counties – the three largest in the district.

Hart netted 30 votes in Scott County after the recount wrapped up its counting on Saturday evening, according to representatives from both campaigns. Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz said the board was to reconvene Tuesday afternoon to recount a single Davenport precinct, but did not know why.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said Hart also netted three votes over Miller-Meeks in the heavily Democratic county, according to unofficial results.

Both the Scott County and Johnson County boards of supervisors were scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to receive the recount boards’ report and consider certifying the amended results. That would shrink Miller-Meeks’ lead to a few votes.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign over the weekend criticized the process used by the Scott County recount board, arguing it is not allowed under state law and cannot be trusted.

That process involved conducting a machine recount, and then recounting ballots by hand that could not be read. Miller-Meeks’ campaign argues that Iowa law requires either a machine or a hand recount, not a combination.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign also argues that there “is no way to audit the work of the recount board using the hybrid methods to verify it’s accuracy,” and alleges the board’s tally of absentee votes is off by 12 from the county’s official canvass of votes.

Hart’s campaign argues that the recount boards — which include one representative from each campaign and one neutral member — have discretion to decide how to proceed. Hart’s campaign, too, contends the bipartisan recount was “conducted fairly and thoroughly,” with input from the Secretary of State’s and Scott County Attorney’s offices. The latter of which issued an opinion stating the hybrid recount method was permissible.

On Tuesday, Hart’s campaign chastised the Miller-Meeks campaign for disputing the final recount proceedings in Jasper County, where a tabulator machine broke down shortly after the recount began.

According to the Hart campaign, Miller-Meeks’ campaign’s designee insisted on waiting for the machine to be repaired, which the recount board agreed to do. After the machine recount of the absentee ballots was completed, Hart netted nine votes, according to her campaign.

“Unfortunately, as is quickly becoming a pattern across multiple counties including Scott County, the Miller-Meeks Campaign is unwilling to play by the rules they sought at the beginning of the recount, and now disputes the machine recount that was conducted at their urging,” Hart for Iowa Campaign Manager Zach Meunier said in a statement. “The point of a recount is to get a final, correct vote total, not recount and recount until one candidate is satisfied with the outcome. ... Iowans understand that you don’t get to change the rules just because you don’t like the outcome, but that is exactly what the Miller-Meeks campaign is trying to do because they are losing ground.”

Miller-Meeks’ campaign contends that when the technician replaced the broken parts, the machine could not read the ballots reliably.

“The Miller-Meeks for Congress campaign is committed to integrity in the recount process,” Woolson said. “The law must be followed and broken vote-counting machines should be properly fixed before they are used.”

The amended vote totals from Jasper County were not reflected in the unofficial results reported Tuesday morning on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, which combined with Scott and Johnson counties could potentially flip the race in Hart’s favor – but by only a few votes.

A total of 17 out of 24 counties in the district had completed their recounts as of Tuesday morning, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.