This week, on the heels of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s announcement that he would object during the Electoral College’s certification of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he and 10 other Republican senators would also object to the certification of electors from certain states. Democrats, unsurprisingly, were outraged, and so too were many in the media, including certain conservative-leaning voices.
George Will decried the group as the nation’s “most dangerous domestic enemies,” while The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson suggested their names be engraved on a monument to “abject cowardice” as they “join a conspiracy against American democracy” and “set fire to the Constitution and dance around the flame.”
Quite severe rhetoric. But these Republican senators are doing nothing to warrant such melodrama.
This dozen is hardly dirty. Let’s take a look at what they’re actually proposing. Hawley, in his separate statement, pointed out that Democrats objected to earlier legitimate presidential elections — and democracy did not crumble in those cases.
Cruz, meanwhile, released a joint statement with the 10 other senators. They do not call for overturning the election; they express no desire to install Donald Trump as the winner of the Electoral College vote, nor do they even suggest that the evidence may lead to that conclusion. They simply acknowledge that millions of their constituents are concerned about election integrity and want to restore faith in the nation’s most foundational institution. To do so, they would appoint “an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.”
What’s so terribly destructive about an audit that would end before Inauguration Day? Folks like Will say it’s because the unprecedented number of fraud allegations are “of uniformly risible quality.” This may be true, but their quality is at about the same level as the allegations that Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election — and those claims spawned a massive, taxpayer-funded investigation that lasted two years. What harm could 10 days do, especially once they find negligible evidence of election tampering and thus restore even the slightest bit of trust in our institutions?
Notice, too, that the statement doesn’t object to the certification of Biden: It says states could, after the audit, “convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.” The senators acknowledge their objections will be outvoted Wednesday; they just want to call attention to their commission proposal.
Why object, then? Well, lawmakers often vote “no” as a matter of protest, not because they’re actually opposed to whatever’s under consideration, but because they take issue with some part of the process. Consider, just a couple months ago, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins’ no vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court: The Republican wasn’t opposed to Barrett, just the manner in which she was being nominated.
Here’s the moral counterargument: Republican lawmakers know the election wasn’t rigged, and rather than doing what’s best for the country, they’re fanning the flames of conspiracy with these objections.
But the truth is lawmakers are not fanning any flames; they’re responding to them. Americans who believe the election was stolen weren’t convinced by senators and congressmen — trust me, I’ve spoken with them. They’re friends and family. They were convinced by their news sources.
If you want to point your finger at fraud-mongers, don’t blame Congress. Blame the media — both the right-wing sites that promoted these fraud allegations and the mainstream outlets that unhelpfully chanted, “There is no evidence of widespread fraud” over and over, assuaging absolutely no one who wasn’t already convinced.
The exception here is those lawmakers who bypass measured approaches to ensure election integrity and instead make unfounded claims that the whole election was “stolen.” That is inflammatory rhetoric, and it should be condemned.
But this coalition of senators has made no such claims. They are simply doing their jobs as representatives of the will of the people, and they’re proposing doing so in a way that disrupts very little and could restore some faith. But regardless of whether this commission is established, precedent tells us this whole objection debacle will end up as nothing more than a footnote in American history, just like objections to elections past.
I just checked: American democracy is doing fine, and no one is dancing around any Constitution-kindled flames.