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MURPHY: Election challenge ends, but issues remain
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MURPHY: Election challenge ends, but issues remain

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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 this past 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. However, Hart’s campaign challenged the results in the U.S. House after it discovered 22 ballots that were legally cast in the election but not counted in the final tally for several 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’s courts. Hart’s campaign noted Iowa law does not permit for consideration of some of the ballots that were legally cast but not counted.

That debate went on for months as a House committee began consideration of Hart’s challenge. Republicans amounted a coordinated and vocal offensive, decrying the challenge often and from all corners.

Finally, this past week, just days after her campaign’s legal team filed its latest briefings, Hart dropped her challenge. Thus ended — just short of five months later to the day — the 2020 2nd District election. Miller-Meeks will finish the remainder of 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 in a perfectly, 100% legal manner, and yet those votes were not counted.

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

State 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. Let’s make it so future candidates don’t have to choose between insufficient state law and an alternate avenue with potentially politically-charged optics.

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 (for example, by reducing the state’s early voting period), surely legislators can design and approve legislation that solves an actual problem.

Our properly functioning democracy demands it.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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