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Rita Hart to challenge second congressional district race in Iowa

Hart's campaign has announced they will be looking into what their next step will be to make sure that "all Iowa voices are heard."

CLINTON, Iowa — UPDATE 12/3: Democrat Rita Hart has released a statement in regards to the Tuesday, November 3rd election.

She says her challenge is, "reflecting the need to count all votes cast in the Second District, including legally cast ballots that were not considered in the state recount process."

Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks meanwhile says she's ready to get to work.

"All ballots have been counted," she said Wednesday, December 2nd. "I'm ahead, and I was ahead on election night. I was ahead at the completion of the county canvas, I am ahead now after the recount they wanted, and I think it's time to move on and get to do the work of the people in the second district."

According to Iowa law, state election challenges must be completed by Tuesday, December 8th.

UPDATE 12/1: The nation's closest congressional race has come to a close, and it was in Iowa. 

The race between Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rita Hart for the state's second congressional district came down to just six votes with Miller-Meeks winning.

All 24 counties in the district held a recount with Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate verifying the outcome of the election Monday, November 30th.

"I think that race alone shows that every vote counts and can make a difference," he said Monday. "I want to thank all of the county recount boards for taking the time and getting that done."

Hart's campaign has announced they will be looking into what their next step will be to make sure that all Iowa voices are heard. Secretary Pate also certified the state's six electoral votes for President Donald Trump.

ORIGINAL STORY: The final county to report in the mandatory recount of Iowa's 2nd congressional district, Clinton County, now has results. 

After around 25 hours of work, that concluded with an all day count on November 28, the Clinton recount board found a net gain of two votes for democrat Rita Hart. But according to unofficial results, that wasn't enough to push her over republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks' razor thin lead of just eight votes. 

"A race this close over so many counties is very rare," said Eric Van Lancker, the Clinton County auditor and commissioner of elections. The last time the county saw a recount was a decade ago, for a senate seat that no longer exists. But this recount, he says, was much, much larger. 

Over 394,000 votes were cast in this race, which now might be separated by just six votes. It's the closest congressional election of 2020, and the closest Iowa's seen in nearly a century. 

RELATED: US appeals court rejects Trump appeal over Pennsylvania race

Clinton's recount board met on Nov. 28 to finish recounting about 6,000 absentee ballots. Van Lancker says the team had put in nearly 20 hours of work leading up to that, but due to scheduling conflicts, had to postpone the rest until after Thanksgiving. 

After election day counts, he says there were over 16,000 absentee ballots in Clinton County, leading to a total of almost 25,000 votes in the swing county. 

Joined by observers from both candidates' teams, the board was looking mostly for 'overvoting,' which Van Lancker explained isn't an error, or fraud. 

If a voter were to fill out a bubble for a candidate, then change their mind, scratch it out, and fill out a different bubble for a different name, the machine is trained to read it as an 'overvote.' But with human eyes, Van Lancker says more judgement can be applied. 

"It's about determining voter intent and that's what you're allowed to do when you hand count ballots and that's where you're likely to get some changes," he explained. The county found about 10 different changes from this, resulting in a net gain of two votes for Hart.

Credit: Shelby Kluver
Outside of the Clinton County recount, which took place in the Charles A. Sheridan Building

Back on election night, while precinct reporting discrepancies were being investigated, the race wasn't called, although it was reported that Miller-Meeks held a lead of just a few hundred votes. By November 12, when the recount was announced, Hart had closed the gap. 

According to unofficial results from the Iowa secretary of state, Miller-Meeks was holding on to a 34-vote-lead before Scott County announced a 26-vote gain for Rita Hart, making the unofficial bridge between the two, just eight ballots, by the start of Clinton County's final recount on Nov. 28. 

The Miller-Meeks campaign is contesting the results of the Scott County recount, after the board adjourned on Nov. 25 without addressing an absentee ballot discrepancy. There was a 131-ballot-difference between the ballots received by the auditor's office, and those included in the post-election canvass. 

However, the campaign also says even with Scott County's numbers counted, they're still confident that they've won both the election and the recount. 

"We finish this recount process up by six, which obviously isn't very many votes compared to 400,000 but you only have to win by one," said Alan Ostergren, a representative for the Miller-Meeks team. "We are on top, at this point, by about three dozen votes if you discount Scott County. But even if you take all those numbers in Rita Hart's favor, we still win this race. It does prove that every vote counts."

RELATED: AP: Biden becomes first presidential candidate with 80 million votes in historic victory

Rita Hart's campaign did not respond to our request for comment, but they did send out a press release after Clinton's results were announced, stating: 

"When we began this recount Rita Hart was down by 47 votes. As more ballots have been counted, the margin has narrowed dramatically and is now down to a mere 6 votes — making this the closest Congressional race in recent history, and one of the very closest in the last hundred years.

Unfortunately, as this process continues, the Miller-Meeks campaign has sought to keep legitimate votes from being counted -- pushing to disqualify and limit the number of Iowans whose votes are counted.

We have said from the beginning of this recount process that the most important thing is that Iowans’ voices are heard and their votes are counted fairly. Moreover, under Iowa law, the recount was limited to the universe of ballots initially counted after Election Day. We will closely review what the county and state boards do on Monday with an eye toward making sure all Iowa voices are fully and fairly heard."

A press statement from Miller-Meeks after hearing of Clinton's results was:

“With the Clinton County recount finished this afternoon, all 24 counties have counted, recounted and in some cases, recounted again, the results of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank county auditors, their staffs and the volunteers who worked so hard these past few weeks to conduct the recount. They personify the words ‘public servant’ and ‘engaged citizenship.’

While the race is extraordinarily close, I am proud to have won this contest and look forward to being certified as the winner by the state’s Executive Council on Monday. It is the honor of a lifetime to be elected to serve the people of eastern and southern Iowa. Iowans are tenacious, optimistic and hard working, and I will take those same attributes to Washington, D.C., on their behalf. From 24 years of service to our country in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves to my several decades of protecting the health of Iowans as a medical professional, I will bring that same Iowa grit to Congress by working to strengthen our healthcare system, combat the COVID pandemic, and get Iowans safely back to work and school.”

Now, the state's deadline to certify the race is Nov. 30. But further legal challenges could mean more delays.