OTTUMWA — Democratic candidate Rita Hart has traded places with Republican opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the race for U.S. House District 2.

The race remains too close to call two days and 15 hours after polls closed Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press. Results remain unofficial until they are canvassed by each county on Nov. 9 and certified by the state on Nov. 30.

Hart, from Clinton County, and Miller-Meeks, from Ottumwa, are battling to decide who will take over the seat held by the retiring Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat.

Wednesday morning, after precincts across the state had completed and reported their Election Day count, Miller-Meeks had a 282 vote lead. Hart now claims a 162-vote lead as of noon Friday.

Across the 24-county district in southeastern Iowa, since the unofficial election night tally, Miller-Meeks's vote total has decreased by 328, according to numbers reported by the Iowa Secretary of State.

To blame for the loss was a vote reporting error in Jasper County. Between election night and Friday afternoon, Miller-Meeks had 373 votes erased from that county.

The Iowa Secretary of State has ordered a hand count audit of the Clear Creek-Poweshiek precinct after a data entry error was blamed for over-reporting votes in the precinct.

A statement released by the Miller-Meeks campaign said they don't believe the Jasper County Auditor or the secretary of state has been transparent. The error was discovered by local officials and reported Thursday afternoon.

"We have demanded additional information because those unexplained discrepancies have the potential to alter the election outcome," the statement released Friday read. "We expect to receive that information immediately."

A statement attributed to Hart campaign manager Zach Meunier said they are confident Hart will be elected once the vote is certified.

"As we have said consistently, Iowans' voices must be heard and their votes accurately counted," the statement said. "It is thus critical that county auditors ensure all results are accurate."

A recount of the Jasper County precinct will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Since Wednesday morning, Miller-Meeks gained 15 votes in Johnson County and 30 in Muscatine. The other counties in the district were unchanged.

Hart has gained 34 votes from Jasper County, 33 from Johnson and 49 from Muscatine.

In Iowa, absentee ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 2, and received before the canvass on Nov. 9, can still be counted. There are 12,198 absentee ballots in the district that were sent to voters but haven't been returned.

There is no automatic recount law in Iowa, but either candidate can request a recount by Nov. 13.

As of Friday afternoon, Hart had 196,603 votes and Miller-Meeks had 196,441. There were 707 write-in votes cast in the election.

Kyle Ocker is the group editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the first vice president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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