U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin of Shirley joined a majority of his fellow House Republicans in a failed bid to reject Arizona’s and Pennsylvania’s electoral ballots for President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, January 6. After rioters were removed from the Capitol Building and Congress’s work could resume, Mr. Zeldin made the case for his objections in a floor speech that was at times counter-factual and often lacking in context.
At around 10 p.m. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recognized Mr. Zeldin for five minutes, during which time he raised concerns about how the presidential election was run in Georgia and Wisconsin, in addition to Arizona and Pennsylvania. Congress did not vote on whether to reject Georgia and Wisconsin electors because at least one member of the House of Representatives and one member of the Senate must initiate the debate, and no senator did for either state.
Lee Zeldin: “My constitutional oath is sacred, and I have a duty to speak out about confirmed, evidence-filled issues with the administration of the 2020 presidential election in certain battleground states. Signature verification, ballot observation, voter roll integrity, voter ID requirements and ballot collection protections were weakened on top of the millions of mailboxes that were flooded with unrequested mail-in ballots. Many of my constituents have been outraged and demanding that I voice their objections here today. This debate is necessary because rogue election officials, secretaries of state and courts circumvented state election laws.”
The courts may have rendered decisions that Mr. Zeldin disagrees with, but state courts interpret the state laws. His insistence that “rogue” courts circumvented the law belies the function and authority of the state courts.
Courts also decide which lawsuits have timeliness and merit, and which plaintiffs have the standing to bring a lawsuit. Several courts, on both the state and federal level, have declined to hear cases after the election for matters that plaintiffs were aware of before Election Day. Courts determined that the time to bring complaints about known concerns was before ballots were cast — not after the plaintiffs’ preferred candidate lost.
“They made massive changes to how their state’s election would be run.”
In his speech, Mr. Zeldin did not once mention the ongoing pandemic that prompted many state legislatures and officials to make accommodations so that voters could cast their ballots while not exposing themselves to the coronavirus.
“These acts, among other issues, were unlawful and unconstitutional.”
The courts — which decide what is lawful and constitutional — have not agreed.
“Congress has the duty to defend the Constitution and any powers of state legislatures that were usurped.”
It has never been Congress’s role or responsibility to rebalance the distribution of power among state legislatures, courts and executives.
“Some claim today’s objections set new precedent by challenging state electors. That claim, of course, ignores that Democrats have objected every time a Republican presidential candidate has won an election over the past generation. If you don’t have any objections today, that’s your call, but don’t lecture about precedent.”
The number of members of Congress supporting objections is unprecedented in modern history. (In 1877, an election commission of House members, Senators and Supreme Court justices awarded disputed electoral college votes to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes over Democrat Samuel Tilden.)
A few House Democrats objected to certifying Florida’s electors in 2001, following the November 2000 election and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision affirming that George W. Bush had won Florida by 537 votes and, therefore, the presidential contest. No senators joined the objections, so Al Gore, who presided over the process as vice president at the time, did not permit a debate.
In 2005, both representatives and senators objected to certifying Ohio’s electors in the 2004 reelection of Mr. Bush, so there was a two-hour debate. If Ohio had gone for challenger John Kerry, its 20 electoral votes would have changed the outcome of the election. A motion to reject the state’s electors failed with the support of only 31 representatives and one senator, Barbara Boxer of California.
In 2017, House Democrats tried to challenge electors for Donald Trump from several states, as lawmakers cited Russian interference in the election. No senator joined the effort to initiate debate and prompt votes on any state’s electors, so Mr. Biden, the vice president at the time, halted it there.
“Over the past four years, Democrats boycotted President Trump’s inauguration and State of the Union addresses, pushed the Trump-Russian collusion conspiracies and investigations and knowingly lied about it, voted to impeach the president before even knowing what to impeach him for, and then actually passed articles of impeachment before Senate Democrats voted to remove him from office.”
None of these acts, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with them and how they are being characterized, have any bearing on how the 2020 presidential election was conducted. Each grievance is unrelated to the matter of the legitimacy of states’ electoral college ballots.
“Today’s debate is necessary, especially because of the insistence that everything President Trump and his supporters say about the 2020 election is evidence-free. That’s simply not true. No one can honestly claim it’s evidence-free when I say that, in Arizona, courts unilaterally extended the legislatively set deadline to register to vote.”
There is precedent for courts across the country extending deadlines to ensure people are not unjustly denied the right vote — it is common historically, and not an irregularity or anomaly in 2020. For instance, in 2016, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a federal court extended Florida’s voter registration deadline.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, such situations may have been seen more often, though they have been common when voting access was threatened by laws or circumstances.
A federal judge ordered the extension of Arizona’s voter registration deadline by nearly three weeks on October 5, 2020. A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later cut the extension short to only 10 days. It is a court victory of substance that President Donald Trump and Mr. Zeldin could point to — but it came before Election Day, not after ballots had already been cast.
Giving citizens more time to register to vote does not correlate with favoring one presidential candidate over another — such extensions also gave Trump supporters more time to register. In fact, during that 10-day window, The Arizona Republic reported, 35,000 new voters were added to the rolls and the Republican Party gained more voters than the Democratic Party. The other 44 percent of new registrants went third-party or unaffiliated.
Mr. Biden won Arizona’s popular vote by a margin of 10,457. Were those 35,000 new voters taken out of the picture, Mr. Biden’s margin of victory could have been even greater.
“The Arizona State Senate issued subpoenas post-election to get information from the Maricopa County Board on various election matters, but the board and the courts refused to help at all to let the State Senate complete its constitutional duties.”
The Arizona Republic reported that the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to file a court complaint in response to the subpoenas “after raising concerns that the state Legislature’s demands are too broad and violate voters’ privacy.”
The complaint argued that the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee did not have the right to issue them, and stated that the subpoenas violate Arizona laws for ballot secrecy and access to ballots, and did not provide sufficient time for the supervisors to comply.
Asked by members of the State Senate to intervene, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found that “the senators did not follow the Legislature’s own procedures” for enforcing subpoenas, according to The Arizona Republic.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, certified the state’s election results December 2.
“In Pennsylvania, where state legislators wrote us about their powers being usurped, the Democrat [sic] majority on the State Supreme Court changed signature matching and postal marking requirements.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in October that ballots could not be rejected due to signature comparisons, agreeing with the state’s chief elections officer, Politico reported. “We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature,” read the court opinion, signed by five Democrats and one Republican. A second Republican justice concurred with the ruling, making the decision unanimous.
While Mr. Zeldin says the court “changed requirements,” the court decision explains that the justices were adhering to the existing election code.
“The date to submit mail-in ballots was extended contradictory to the date set by state law.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling on September 17 that stated mail-in ballots mailed by Election Day, November 3, must be counted if received by November 6, three days after Election Day, even if the postmark was unclear — unless there was evidence a ballot was mailed late. The Democrats had sued to receive such a decision, to ensure that ballots that were cast before Election Day would not be rejected due to mail delays.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-4 deadlock on October 19, allowed the state court decision to stand. The court did not have the majority required to hear the Pennsylvania Republicans’ challenge.
“The State Legislature expanded no-excuse mail-in balloting without a constitutional amendment. Constitutions apply to the acts of all branches of government.”
No excuse mail-in balloting in Pennsylvania was approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by the Democratic governor in 2019. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction when, post-election, Mr. Trump’s allies endeavored to have all 2.5 million of Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots thrown out on the grounds that the law was unconstitutional.
Mr. Zeldin’s hope to relitigate the matter in the halls of Congress would be a workaround to deny the vote to 2.5 million Americans who cast their ballots in a manner that state courts time and time again said was constitutional.
“The issue is magnified by the voter rolls being so inaccurate that more voters submitted ballots than there were registered voters.”
This is flat-out false, and the claim was long debunked before Mr. Zeldin repeated it Wednesday.
There had been a lag in a few counties updating data in the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, the Associated Press noted in a fact check. But voters register with their local county board of elections in Pennsylvania, and whether county data has been uploaded to a state database or not has no bearing on their eligibility to vote. Mr. Zeldin’s seeming suggestion that there were more ballots cast than registered voters — something he implied without saying explicitly — is counter to the facts.
“Signature authentication rules for absentee and mail-in ballots were weakened by the Democrat [sic] secretary of the commonwealth without authorization.”
Mr. Zeldin did not point to any law that states that the secretary requires authorization, and he did not state who the secretary should have sought authorization from. As mentioned previously, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the moves and found that they adhered to state law.
“Ballot defects were allowed to be cured in some counties but not others.”
According to the nonpartisan nonprofit FactCheck.org, operated by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, counties in Pennsylvania “employed inconsistent policies” for curing mail-in ballots. In some counties, officials directly contacted voters whose ballots were rejected. In others, the political parties were contacted so they could then reach out to their members. However, the analysis points out, these inconsistencies did not favor one party over another. Additionally, there were not enough cured ballots to change the results.
Mr. Biden won Pennsylvania by 80,555 votes. The Pennsylvania Department of State certified the results on November 24.
“There were poll watchers denied the ability to closely observe ballot counting operations.”
How many feet away poll watchers could stand or sit from counters has been raised by Mr. Trump and his allies repeatedly. Mr. Zeldin did not go as far as some others, who have said that Republican poll watchers were not allowed in the counting rooms in many places — which is a completely false assertion that Mr. Zeldin was right not to repeat.
On November 6, a judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled poll watchers at the Philadelphia Convention Center “must be allowed within 6 feet of all ballot canvassing,” CBS News reported at the time. That ruling was appealed, and on November 17, as Politico reported, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down a decision that found Philadelphia’s accommodations of poll watchers had been sufficient.
“We conclude the Board did not act contrary to law in fashioning its regulations governing the positioning of candidate representatives during the precanvassing and canvassing process, as the Election Code does not specify minimum distance parameters for the location of such representatives,” the decision reads. “Critically, we find the Board’s regulations as applied herein were reasonable in that they allowed candidate representatives to observe the Board conducting its activities as prescribed under the Election Code.”
“In Georgia, the secretary of state unilaterally entered into a settlement agreement with the Democratic Party changing statutory requirements for confirming voter identity. Challenging defective signatures was made far more difficult, and the settlement even required election officials to consider issuing training materials drafted by an expert retained by the Democratic Party.”
Georgia’s secretary of state is Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. According to his office, the consent decree that was struck with Democratic organizations over how signature matching is done did not change a thing. Rather, the decree doubled down on the existing statute.
“All we did was send out an ‘official election bulletin,’ telling people, ‘Hey, follow our rules and how we already do signature match,’” said Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s voting systems implementation manager, in an interview with Atlanta’s 11 Alive News.
In November, shortly after the election, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Grimberg rendered a decision that found the secretary of state had been acting under authority invested in him by the General Assembly.
“The Settlement Agreement is a manifestation of Secretary Raffensperger’s statutorily granted authority,” Judge Grimberg wrote.
On Tuesday, January 5, a second attempt to invalidate Georgia’s electoral votes in a federal court was likewise rejected.
Regarding the training materials that Mr. Zeldin said officials were required to “consider issuing,” he did not indicate that any officials actually issued such materials. He stopped at saying the materials were drafted by an expert the Democrats hired; he did not identify any inaccuracies or deficiencies in the materials.
Mr. Biden won in Georgia with a margin of 12,670 votes. On November 20, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, and state election officials certified the results.
“In Wisconsin, election officials assisted voters on how to circumvent the state’s voter ID laws and signature verification laws while also placing unmanned dropped boxes in locations picked to boost Democrat [sic] turnout.”
In March, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the clerks of Dane and Milwaukee counties were telling voters who were housebound due the COVID-19 pandemic how they could bypass Wisconsin’s voter ID requirements when requesting a mail-in ballot. The guidance was regarding an April 7 election in the state. The clerks, both Democrats, stated that if voters indicate they are “indefinitely confined” when filling out an online form to request a mail-in ballot, they would not be required to upload a copy of a valid ID for voting, like a driver’s license. They cited the difficulty that seniors who called their offices had in attempting to upload ID photos.
The state’s residents were under a stay-at-home order at the time.
On December 14, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it is up to individual voters to determine for themselves if they are indefinitely confined, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The report noted that, under state law, people can vote absentee without showing an ID if they say they are indefinitely confined because of age, disability or infirmity.
Regarding drop boxes, the Wisconsin Elections Commission advised voters that they can drop an absentee ballot in a “secure, locked” collection box any time between when they receive the ballot and the last collection on Election Day.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Chicago-based nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life provided more than $6.3 million, in total, to five Wisconsin cities to help administer the election. A federal judge had turned down a conservative group’s request that the funding be blocked.
“The Democracy in the Park event in Wisconsin had over 17,000 ballots transferred that shouldn’t have been.”
The Madison City clerk’s office hosted Democracy in the Park events in September and October. Republican Wisconsin State legislators objected after the first event, arguing that it “violates state law by not offering an approved method of ballot collection,” WKOW reported. Voters were able to turn in their absentee ballots at 206 city parks, staffed by poll workers.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe told WKOW that Democracy in the Park did not break any law.
In 2018, Republican Wisconsin Election Commissioner Jodi Jensen said in a press release upon Ms. Wolfe’s appointment, “Meagan Wolfe is someone who knows Wisconsin elections, who the clerks trust and who can tackle the issue of election security.”
Ms. Wolfe’s appointment was approved by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court weighed in as well. The court ruled that Democracy in the Park “met the letter of state election laws,” according to FactCheck.org, which further reported that the court said it was “‘patently unreasonable’ for the campaign to file the lawsuit after the election, and for those votes to be thrown out given that ‘thousands of voters relied on the representations of their election officials that these events complied with the law.’”
Mr. Zeldin offered no legal argument for why he believes 17,000 ballots should not have been “transferred.”
On November 24, the Dane County Board of Canvassers rejected, 2-1, a Trump campaign effort to toss out 17,271 ballots. Because the absentee ballots dropped off at Democracy in the Park events were not separated from other ballots, the Trump campaign requested that the city “draw down” 17,271 ballots, WKOW reported. That would mean tossed ballots would not necessarily be the same ballots from the Democracy in the Park events.
Mr. Biden won in Wisconsin by a margin of 20,682 votes. Democratic Governor Tony Evers and the state’s top election official certified the results November 30.
“There are all facts and certainly not evidence free. Americans deserve nothing less than full faith and confidence in their elections, and a guarantee that their vote, their voice counts, and that their concerns are being heard. That’s why we need to have this debate today, whether you like it or not. This isn’t about us. This is about our Constitution, our elections, this is about our people, and our Republic.”
Some of Mr. Zeldin’s “facts” were not facts at all. Some may have been accurate but had no bearing on the issue at hand. Others lacked key context. On the whole, he painted a picture of an election rife with irregularities that were never examined or litigated — and that picture is false.
Mr. Zeldin urged that votes be guaranteed while criticizing efforts to ensure that citizens may register to vote, vote safely, and be assured their votes cast in good faith were counted.