Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and nine other Republican US senators or senators-elect said on Saturday they will reject presidential electors from states where results are contested by Donald Trump’s campaign, “unless and until [an] emergency 10-day audit is completed”.
The move is largely symbolic, but nonetheless adds to a sense of deepening schism and crisis affecting US democracy.
Trump has refused to concede defeat by Joe Biden, though the Democrat won more than 7m more votes nationally and took the electoral college by 306-232 – a margin Trump said was a landslide when he won it over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The Trump campaign has lost the vast majority of more than 50 lawsuits it has mounted in battleground states, alleging mass electoral fraud, and before the US supreme court.
On Friday, a federal judge dismissed a suit lodged by a House Republican which attempted to give the vice-president, Mike Pence, who will preside over the certification of the electoral college result on Wednesday 6 January, the power to overturn that verdict.
Nonetheless, the Republican senators and senators-elect who issued the statement on Saturday followed Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri in committing to challenging the electoral college result.
Objections are also expected from a majority of House Republicans. Such objections must be debated and voted on but as Democrats control the House and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other senior Republicans have voiced opposition, the attempt to disenfranchise a majority of Americans seems doomed to fail.
Cruz and Johnson were joined in issuing a statement on Saturday by Senators James Lankford (Oklahoma), Steve Daines (Montana), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) and Mike Braun (Indiana).
Senators-elect Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Bill Hagerty (Tennessee) and Tommy Tuberville (Alabama) also signed on.
“The election of 2020,” they said, “like the election of 2016, was hard fought and, in many swing states, narrowly decided. The 2020 election, however, featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.”
No hard evidence for such claims has been presented. Federal officials, including the former attorney general William Barr and Christopher Krebs, a cyber security chief subsequently fired by Trump, have said the election was secure.
Regardless, the senators said Congress “should immediately 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. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.”
The senators made reference to the most direct precedent for their demand, the contested election of 1876, which ended in the appointment of such a commission.
“We should follow that precedent,” the Republicans said.
Many well-informed voices would suggest that would be a bad idea, given that process led to a political deal which put an end to the process of Reconstruction and led to the institution of racist Jim Crow laws across the formerly slave-owning south
In August, the Pulitzer-winning historian Eric Foner told the Guardian: “The election of 1876 would not have been disputed at all if there hadn’t been massive violence in the south to prevent black people from voting and voter suppression like we have today. Now, voter suppression is mostly legal.”
Presciently, given claims by Trump and his supporters that mail-in voting used under a pandemic was widely abused by Democrats, he added: “Today, I can certainly see the Trump people challenging these mail-in ballots: ‘They’re all fraudulent, they shouldn’t be counted.’ Challenging people’s voting.”
Cruz, like Hawley, is prominent among Republicans expected to run for president in 2024, and thus eager to appeal to a party base still solidly loyal to Trump.
Perhaps involuntarily pointing to widespread concern about the damage done by Trump’s stance and the Republican party’s support for it, the senators and senators-elect said their “allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate.
“Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged’. That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).
“Some members of Congress disagree with that assessment, as do many members of the media. But, whether or not our elected officials or journalists believe it, that deep distrust of our democratic processes will not magically disappear. It should concern us all. And it poses an ongoing threat to the legitimacy of any subsequent administrations.”