When we talk about threats to democracy this election year, former President Donald Trump gets most of the attention. And for good reason: He’s declared himself above the law and promises to abuse power if he wins a second term. But the most misunderstood threat comes from Congress. Inside the very building where our democracy came under attack three years ago, scores of election deniers still hold power.
According to new research from States United, the nonpartisan organization we founded to help state and local officials protect elections. Roughly a third of the current House and Senate — 171 members in all — are election deniers. Take Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. In a Sunday interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” not only did she not commit to certifying the 2024 election results, but she also said, “I have concerns about the treatment of Jan. 6 hostages.”
Again, Stefanik isn’t alone. Election deniers represent 36 states, red and blue alike. And most will be on the ballot again this November. It’s worth thinking about how much havoc they could cause if they are returned to power.
Start with Jan. 6, 2025. On that day, the newly elected Congress will tally the Electoral College votes and declare a winner in the 2024 presidential election. If voters reject Trump in favor of President Biden, then it’s easy to imagine election deniers trying to derail the count. We’ve seen that film before.
Yes, after the U.S. Capitol attack, Congress made it harder to sabotage a presidential election. A new law raises the threshold for objecting to any state’s electoral votes to one-fifth of the members of both the House and Senate. Previously, it took only one member from each chamber. But even under the new rules, election deniers in Congress could make mischief. Already, 152 of them sit in the House, more than enough to clear the higher bar. Nineteen sit in the Senate, just one shy of what would be needed. With many races expected to be close, the threshold could be lower if some members aren’t sworn in by Jan. 6.
It gets worse: If no presidential candidate wins 270 electoral votes, then the House chooses the president. That hasn’t happened in 200 years, but it’s not impossible this election year. Under this process, each state gets one vote. As of today, election deniers sit in 36 House delegations.
This is not a constitutional crisis fever dream. After all, election deniers in Congress tried to help Trump steal the presidential election last time. Almost 150 members voted to reject results from states won by Biden. And more than 100 signed a brief supporting a reckless lawsuit that sought to throw out the votes of tens of millions of Americans.
Leading the recruitment effort for that brief was a little-known representative from Louisiana named Mike Johnson, now the most powerful election denier in government. One of his first acts as House speaker was to shield the identities of Jan. 6 rioters in footage of the attack, to help them avoid accountability.
Election deniers in Congress could cause trouble in many other ways. They could use budget powers to defund Jan. 6 prosecutions. Congress, which has a history of erratic election funding, could starve federal agencies that help protect elections. Election deniers could gin up baseless investigations and haul election administrators to Capitol Hill to berate them for doing their jobs in 2024. The Senate could refuse to confirm judges or executive branch officials who don’t give lip service to the “big lie.” And election deniers with a congressional platform could further poison public trust in elections with more lies.
Elections are administered by state and local officials, but Americans understand that Congress has substantial influence. In new polling from States United, 59% of people said Congress has a significant amount of power when it comes to elections. What they say — and do — about our elections really matters.
The good news is that there’s still time to do something about this. And while presidential campaigns are decided by a handful of battleground states, voters from coast to coast can make a difference in 2024 by rejecting election deniers for Congress.
The same polling suggests election denial may come with a political price. A plurality of voters, 42%, would be less likely to re-elect a member of Congress who refused to certify in 2020. To get educated, voters can start at ElectionDeniers.org. It offers the full picture of election deniers in Congress and in state offices across the country.
It’s been three years since Jan. 6, 2021, and a push for accountability has left our democracy stronger. Trump faces federal and state indictments for trying to overthrow the election. Many of his accomplices are facing criminal charges or professional discipline. More than 1,200 people have been arrested for the Capitol attack.
But members of Congress have largely escaped having to answer for betraying American voters. If we don’t want it to happen again, we can decide this fall not to trust election deniers with power over our votes.
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