Five Facts on Contested Elections

Six votes decided the 2020 U.S. House election for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks won, and she has been seated, but Democratic challenger Rita Hart is asking a congressional committee to investigate the results.

Here are five facts on contested congressional elections:

  1. The authority for the House to overturn election results comes from the Constitution and the Federal Contested Elections Act.

Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution says “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members,” which means that the House and Senate can determine whether a member has been duly elected. In 1969, Congress passed the Federal Contested Elections Act, which laid out a procedure for losing candidates to contest the outcome. Within 30 days of the election’s certification by the state election body, the losing candidate can file a notice with the U.S. House, starting a process including candidate statements and depositions. The process resembles a court trial, with the losing candidate having the burden of proof.

Only 39 House elections have been formally contested in the last half century.

Since the Federal Contested Elections Act’s imposition in 1969, only 39 seats have been formally contested, representing 0.4% of House elections during that time. The highest proportion of contested elections occurred in the late 19th century amid reconstruction and expanding Black suffrage in the south.

  1. Between 1933 and 2009, only 3 out of 107 candidates who challenged a House election result were ultimately seated.

In New Hampshire’s First District race in 1936, Arthur Byron Jenks appeared to have won by 550 votes, but the House seated his opponent Alphonse Roy after the House investigated the state-led recounts and found that the governor fraudulently issued an election certificate to Jenks. In the 1960 race in Indiana’s Fifth District, George Chambers initially appeared to win by 12 votes, but since Indiana did not conduct recounts at the time for legislative offices, the House Administration Committee conducted a recount and found that J. Edward Roush won by 99 votes.

  1. The last time the House overturned an election was in 1984, when the House Administration Committee concluded that Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey won the race for Indiana’s 8th District by 4 votes.

The race underwent two recounts, the first of which was run by state election officials and concluded Republican Rick McIntyre had won by 418 votes, greater than his initial margin of 34 votes. But a second recount, supervised by a U.S. House-appointed task force, concluded the incumbent Rep. Frank McCloskey won after deciding “not to count a number of technically flawed absentee ballots, and to ignore ballot discrepancies in several counties,” according to an account in The New York Times.

  1. There are currently two elections being contested in the House: the election in Iowa’s Second District and Illinois’ 14th District.

The election between Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart was decided by six votes after a full recount by the bipartisan Iowa State Board of Canvassers. However, Hart maintains that 22 ballots should have been counted that would have awarded her the victory. This election is under review by the House Administration Committee. In Illinois’s 14th District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood beat Republican Jim Oberweis by more than 5,000 votes, though he insists that missing initials on absentee ballots and an ineligible out-of-state voter would secure his victory. It is unclear how the House Administration Committee will handle this challenge.

This article was first published on Real Clear Politics


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