The Landscape in Congress
State by state and district by district, Congress directly represents the people. Yet many of its members have shown that they don’t respect the will of the people in choosing our leaders.
About a third of the sitting members of Congress—172 of them—are Election Deniers. They represent 36 states, and a significant portion of each chamber. Many of them tried to overturn the 2020 election, either in court or by disrupting certification of the results. Others have pushed election lies and conspiracy theories in front of their constituents. All have abused the public’s trust and undermined our democracy.
In December 2020, more than 100 members attached their names to a brief supporting a baseless lawsuit that sought to invalidate the election results of four whole states that had selected Joe Biden for president. That lawsuit, which would have thrown away the votes of tens of millions of Americans, was quickly rejected by the Supreme Court.
Leading the recruitment effort for the legal brief was Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who three years later became speaker of the House and is now second in line to the presidency. Johnson has trafficked in election conspiracy theories, such as saying there was “a lot of merit” to allegations about rigged voting machines in 2020. (There is no merit.) Since then, he has also shielded the identities of people who participated in the violent insurrection.
Americans believe Congress has substantial influence over elections. In new polling from States United, 59% of registered voters said Congress has a “great deal” or “fair amount” of power when it comes to running elections. Elections are administered by state and local officials—which voters understand. But members of Congress can exploit their power, pass laws, and chip away at public trust in democracy.
Congress does have concrete election powers. Congress determines federal funding for election administration—about $5 billion worth over the past two decades—and has a say in redistricting procedures. The Senate confirms federal judges, who may hear election cases, and certain executive branch officials, such as the attorney general, who are charged with defending elections. Both chambers can decide whether to accept or reject the seating of members elected to Congress.
After presidential elections, Congress counts and then officially declares results of the Electoral College vote and presidential election. In 2020, almost 150 members of Congress objected to the results from two states. The first of those objections were interrupted by the Capitol attack and ultimately failed, but the process demonstrated that Election Deniers in Congress can threaten the decision of the American people. In December 2022, Congress passed and President Biden signed a bill that will make it harder to sabotage a presidential election.
Congress has one other major election responsibility: When no presidential candidate gets a majority of the Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives chooses the president. Each state delegation gets one vote. It hasn’t happened in 200 years, but it’s a plausible scenario in 2024. Right now, Election Deniers make up 35 percent of the House, and they are in the delegations of three-quarters of the states. Yet another reason we should insist that members of Congress tell the truth about elections and always support the will of the people.
The people are watching. In the same States United poll, a plurality of Americans (42%) said they would be less likely to re-elect a member of Congress who refused to certify the 2020 election results—nearly two times higher than the share who would be more likely. (This echoes the results of the 2022 midterms, when voters blocked Election Deniers from taking control of elections in key states.) So Americans have a right to know which members of Congress are Election Deniers and pose a threat to our democracy. That starts here.