Fact-Checking the Congressional Debate on Ratifying the Election Results

Last Updated Jan. 22, 2021, 8:41 a.m. ET3 hours ago3 hours ago

Supporters of President Trump outside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Congress is meeting in joint session to certify Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.
Supporters of President Trump outside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Congress is meeting in joint session to certify Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Follow our live coverage of Biden’s presidency.

  • The House and Senate had convened on Wednesday to ratify Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the presidential election when a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol.
  • On Wednesday night, lawmakers resumed their work and rejected a challenge to Arizona’s election results. House-led challenges to the results in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada — all of which, like Arizona, were won by Mr. Biden — sputtered out after failing to secure the support of a senator. But the two chambers split off from joint session shortly after midnight to debate Pennsylvania’s results after Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri joined in an objection.
  • Before the Congressional action got underway, Mr. Trump spoke to a crowd of supporters in Washington, repeating many of his baseless claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread election fraud.
  • Mr. Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill recycled many of his claims and promoted others in a futile effort to change or delay the outcome.
  • The House and Senate will hold separate debates in any case in which at least one member of each chamber objects to a state’s results. Each debate will last up to two hours. Only if both the House and the Senate then vote against certifying a state’s outcome is the result nullified. Since Democrats control the House and many if not most Senate Republicans oppose trying to change the outcome, there is little to no chance of the process ending without ratifying Mr. Biden’s 306-to-232 Electoral College victory.
  • Reporters from The New York Times will be fact-checking claims throughout the debates and providing context and analysis.

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unilaterally extended the deadline to receive absentee and mail-in ballots.”

— Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland

In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision allowing Pennsylvania to accept mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day. The decision was an accommodation for the extraordinary circumstances of a widespread coronavirus pandemic affecting millions of voters in the state and concerns about the ability of the Postal Service to deliver ballots on time.

In its opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote that it had the “authority to provide relief when there is a natural disaster or emergency” that threatened to “deprive electors of the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.”

After the state court ruling, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. But the Supreme Court declined to take up the challenge in October, leaving the original state court ruling in place.Read more

By Maggie Astor

“It’s been proven that these machines are connected and that they can be hacked.”

— Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia

Ms. Greene, a newly elected representative who has promoted the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, was referring to voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems. She claimed Democrats had lied in saying that the machines were not vulnerable to hacking because they were not connected to the internet.

In fact, numerous officials — including election authorities and the chief executive of Dominion, John Poulos, who testified under oath last month before the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee — have largely confirmed Democrats’ statements. In some places, Mr. Poulos testified, modems are briefly used to transmit results, but only after the polls have closed and not for a long enough period of time to create a risk of hacking.

Mr. Poulos’s testimony pertained to Dominion’s machines in Antrim County, Mich., but officials elsewhere have reiterated that the machines in their jurisdictions were not connected to the internet either. Just this week, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican election official in Georgia, told reporters that the machines had no modems.

“It’s very hard to hack things without modems,” Mr. Sterling said.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“I would like to point out that all of the cases that have been thrown out have been thrown out on standing, not the evidence of voter fraud.”

— Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia

The Trump campaign and its allies have brought 60-some lawsuits challenging various aspects of the voting system and the counting, and have won one. Some cases have been thrown out for procedural reasons including a lack of standing by the plaintiffs to bring the suits. But a New York Times tally found that two-thirds of the lawsuits did not allege voter fraud. In the nearly dozen that did, the claims collapsed under scrutiny. For example, the Trump campaign in Nevada claimed that its experts had found “120,000 unique instances of voter fraud.” A court in Nevada said the campaign presented “no credible or reliable evidence that the 2020 general election in Nevada was affected by fraud” and that its expert testimony “was of little to no value.”

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“The Supreme Court authorized the use of drop boxes where ballot harvesting could occur. The legislature never authorized that form of voting, and the court had absolutely no right to do so.”

— Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania

Mr. Perry was referring to an unproven assertion that the addition of drop boxes last year as an option for Pennsylvania voters to return their ballots allowed for ballots to be “harvested,” or collected and dropped off in bulk by unauthorized people. There has been no evidence presented of any such unlawful activity in the state.

It is also false that the addition of ballot drop boxes as an option for voters was unlawfully pushed though by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court, following due process, ruled in September that voters in the state could use drop boxes, which other states have used for years without any issues.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“How can this election be certified using a system that still displays after two months that 205,000 more votes were cast in Pennsylvania than people who voted?”

— Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania

This figure comes from a faulty analysis conducted by state Republican lawmakers. The analysis relied on voter history records uploaded to a database called the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors.

But the Pennsylvania’s Department of State said the database was incomplete because a few counties — including Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties, the two largest in the state — had yet to fully upload their data. In reality, more than 6.9 million Pennsylvanians voted in the 2020 presidential election out of more than 9 million registered voters.

“It is however the vote counts certified by the counties, not the uploading of voter histories into the SURE system, that determines the ultimate certification of an election by the counties to the Department, and then in turn, by the secretary based on the county certifications,” the Pennsylvania Department of State wrote, calling the analysis “obvious misinformation.”Read more

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“In Michigan, signed affidavits document numerous unconstitutional irregularities: officials physically blocking the legal right of poll watchers to observe vote counts, the illegal counting of late ballots and hand-stamping ballots with the previous day’s date.”

— Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York

There have been no legitimate claims that poll watchers were not able to observe counts in Michigan, or that the illegal counting of ballots ever took place.

In Detroit, one vote-counting site did cover its windows the day after Election Day because, as an election official said, poll workers inside had expressed concerns about people taking unauthorized photos and videos of their work.

Additionally, no evidence has been presented that postal workers hand-stamped ballots with the previous day’s date. But even if it had, it would not change the election results in the state: Michigan law states that mail-in ballots “must reach the clerk or an authorized assistant of the clerk before the close of the polls on Election Day.”Read more

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“In Wisconsin, officials issued illegal rules to circumvent a state law passed by the Legislature as the Constitution requires, that required absentee voters to provide photo identification before obtaining a ballot.”

— Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York

Wisconsin election law requires a copy of acceptable photo ID in a voter’s first absentee application by mail. But voters who are “indefinitely confined” because of illness or disability do not need to provide a photo ID with their absentee ballot requests, and their signature on the ballot satisfies the photo ID requirement — a law that the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld last month.

The State Supreme Court also ruled that it was up to each voter to decide whether they qualified as indefinitely confined, including in relation to being confined because of the pandemic.

The state law “requires that each elector make an individual assessment to determine whether he or she qualifies as indefinitely confined or disabled for an indefinite period,” Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote in the majority decision.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“The Democracy in the Park event in Wisconsin had over 17,000 ballots transferred that shouldn’t have been.”

— Representative Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York

In a lawsuit, the Trump campaign objected to “Democracy in the Park” events held in Madison, Wis., where election officials collected some 17,000 completed absentee ballots, arguing that this was illegal and tantamount to early voting. A court in Wisconsin rejected that argument, noting that the Trump campaign was essentially asking to disenfranchise voters and that it did not object to the well-publicized events until after the president had lost the election.

By Davey Alba and Ben Decker

“The Washington Times has just reported some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company showing that some of the people who breached the capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters, and in fact were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”

— Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida

Soon after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, members of the far right began pushing the unfounded claim that the mob was made up of liberal activists only posing as Trump supporters.

Several posts on social media shared by thousands of people held up photographs as evidence that supporters of antifa — a loosely organized collective of antifascist activists — were behind the unrest. The far right website The Washington Times published an article that said two men seen in photos from inside the Capitol matched two antifa members from Philadelphia.

But those images did not, in fact, reveal antifa involvement. Instead, some of the photographs, and the information contained in them, were matched to an antifa site intended to expose known individuals in the neo-Nazi movement.Read more

By Ben Decker

“In 2020, Democrats promoted massive foreign interference in American elections by helping illegal aliens and other noncitizens vote in American elections, thereby canceling the votes of, and stealing elections from, American citizens.”

— Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama

There is no evidence that Democrats enlisted noncitizens to interfere in the elections last year. After bringing some 60 lawsuits, and even offering financial incentive for information about fraud, President Trump and his allies failed to prove definitively a single case of illegal voting on behalf of their opponent in court, including any cases of undocumented immigrants casting ballots.

Top election officials across the country contacted by The New York Times after the November election said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race.

2017 analysis by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice based on information from local election administrators found that noncitizen voting in the 2016 election was exceedingly rare.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“And there were objections from every Republican president in my lifetime, in 1989, 2001, in 2005 and in 2017.”

— Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York

It’s true that Democratic lawmakers have objected to counting a state’s electors after the elections of Republican presidents in 2001, 2005 and 2017, but none did so in 1989. Moreover, Ms. Stefanik is neglecting to mention that the objections were overruled in 2001 and 2017. And unlike President Trump, the losing candidate in all three years had already conceded, making the objections largely symbolic rather than part of a concerted effort to block or overturn the result.

An objection must be made and signed by both a member of the House and the Senate. In 2001 and 2017, the objecting House members were unable to find a senator to co-sign, and were overruled by the presiding chairs at the time, Vice President Al Gore and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. In 2005, two Democrats serving in Congress at the time — Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and Senator Barbara Boxer of California — objected to counting Ohio’s electoral votes. The two chambers then convened debate and rejected the objections.Read more

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“In Georgia, there was constitutional overreach when the secretary of state unilaterally and unconstitutionally gutted signature matching for absentee ballots, and in essence, eliminated voter verification required by state election law.”

— Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York

In Georgia, there are two signature matches required by state election law for absentee ballots. The first is when a voter requests an absentee ballot and signs the application. The second is when voters sign the outer envelope for the ballot. At this point, the signature is checked against the absentee ballot application and voter registration. No signature matching is required during the audit or recount process. It could be ordered by a court, but Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said there was no basis to conduct such an audit.

By Maggie Astor and Linda Qiu

“Pennsylvania elected officials passed a whole new law that allows universal mail-in balloting, and did it irregardless of what the Pennsylvania Constitution said.”

— Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri

Mr. Hawley was referring to Act 77, which Pennsylvania legislators passed in 2019. He argued on Wednesday night that the act had violated “a state constitution that has been interpreted for over a century to say there is no mail-in balloting permitted, except in very narrow circumstances that’s also provided for in the law.”

The courts have not ruled on the constitutionality of Act 77; the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a postelection challenge on the basis that it was filed too long after the law was enacted. But legal experts have broadly rejected Mr. Hawley’s argument, and the Pennsylvania Constitution says that the state’s elections may be conducted “by ballot or by such other method as may be prescribed by law,” indicating that the legislature has the authority to authorize new voting methods.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas constitutional law professor, said Mr. Hawley was essentially claiming that by changing state law, Pennsylvania legislators had violated the state constitution and, in turn, violated the United States Constitution. That is a “crazy argument,” Professor Vladeck said. “It’s not just frivolous; it would turn the Constitution on its head.”

Mr. Hawley also did not mention that Act 77 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. In fact, most of the opposition at the time came from Democrats who disliked an unrelated provision in the bill. Republicans did not object for months after it was enacted, until it became clear that widespread mail-in voting could benefit Democrats in the presidential election.Read more

By Maggie Astor

The claim: Maricopa County, Ariz., conducted a postelection audit that “showed perfect, 100 percent accuracy in the machine tabulations.”

— Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat of Nevada

Shortly after the Nov. 3 election, officials in Maricopa County — home to a majority of Arizona voters — conducted a hand audit of four vote centers. (The county used a new system in the 2020 election that permitted residents to vote in person at any voting location in the county, rather than being limited to their home precinct.) Auditors representing the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party chose the centers, and volunteers manually counted the ballots cast at those centers and checked that they matched the machine counts. They did.

By Maggie Astor

“Some objectors claim to merely want a commission to conduct an audit and then let states decide whether to send different electors. First, the situations are not at all analogous.”

— Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania

Mr. Toomey was referring to members of Congress who invoked “the 1877 precedent” in calling for a 15-member commission to audit the election results.

In the 1876 presidential election, the Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote, but the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, ultimately won the Electoral College in a compromise that ended Reconstruction and that several Republicans have cited as a model for the 2020 election.

An essential difference between the two elections, as Mr. Toomey said, is that in 1876, three states — Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida — sent competing slates of electors to Washington. In such a situation, Congress is explicitly tasked with resolving the dispute and determining which slate to count. This year, there are no competing slates.Read more

By Davey AlbaTechnology Reporter

“No access to the Dominion voting machines, with a documented history of enabling fraud through its now-discredited adjudication system, a system that literally allows one person to change tens of thousands of votes in mere minutes.”

— Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona

President Trump and his supporters in Congress repeatedly draw from the conspiracy movement QAnon, which has pushed false claims about election fraud. Mr. Gosar repeated one such claim on Wednesday, alleging without evidence that Dominion Voting Systems, a company that makes software to help local governments run their elections, would enable someone to change votes.

Dominion Voting Systems has forcefully denied that its software could be used to “switch” or “delete” votes. There is no evidence that any voting system used in the United States, including the machines with Dominion software, allows a person to delete or changes votes, according to the federal agency that oversees election security. But QAnon adherents have continued to push the unfounded conspiracy theory.

QAnon originated in 2017, centering on the baseless notion that the country is run by a Democrat-led cabal of pedophiles whom President Trump is bringing down. As the movement has grown, it has promulgated other conspiracy theories.Read more

By Sheera Frenkel

Mail-in voting misinformation spread from state to state.

Mail-in voting has become a common talking point among President Trump’s supporters falsely claiming it contributed to widespread voter fraud, including on Wednesday, when Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, brought it up. But there is little evidence to support their statements.

In March, Mr. Trump began making false claims about mail-in voting in tweets that inaccurately stated that there were “big problems and discrepancies” with mail-in voting, and that people could vote multiple times by mail.

In the weeks following the 2020 elections, the president and his supporters expanded their claims to nearly a dozen states. The claims falsely stated that people had voted in the names of others, including their spouses, dead relatives and pets, or that mail-in votes had been switched or miscounted by election officials.

Audits across the United States have not turned up cases of widespread voter fraud, or of vote switching by mail-in voting. In a handful of cases, people were discovered attempting to fraudulently vote in the names of others, but were stopped by election officials. In Pennsylvania, officials discovered that a man had unlawfully voted for Mr. Trump in the name of his deceased mother. The man is facing charges and could spend up to 19 years in prison if convicted.

Election officials have repeatedly stated that mail-in voting is safe. A database maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation found 193 convicted cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2020, during which roughly 250 million votes were cast.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“Each state has a process for selecting their electors and sending them to Washington. Madam speaker, in a number of those states, that constitutional process was not followed.”

— Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana

Courts have rejected Mr. Scalise’s interpretation of election law. The Constitution gives state legislatures the power to choose their electors, but does not stipulate how they must do it. In Arizona, the legislature has delegated the authority to run elections to its secretary of state.

In Wisconsin, Mr. Trump’s campaign argued in court that the state had violated his rights through how it conducted its elections. A federal judge in Milwaukee, a Trump appointee, dismissed the case last month.

The Electors Clause of the Constitution “directs state legislatures to appoint presidential electors in a manner of their choosing,” Judge Brett H. Ludwig wrote. “There has been no violation of the Constitution.”Read more

By Maggie Astor

“Recent polling shows that 39 percent of Americans believe the election that just occurred, quote, was rigged.”

— Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas

It is true that a recent Reuters poll found that 39 percent of Americans believe the election was “rigged.” (Twenty-two percent “strongly” agreed with that statement and 17 percent “somewhat” agreed with it.) However, the argument that Mr. Cruz is making is circular and misleading. Since the moment Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory became clear in November, Mr. Trump has repeatedly and forcefully told his supporters that the election was illegitimate. Mr. Trump and other Republicans made this argument before polling showed that many Republicans believed it, and are now citing the fact that people believe them as evidence that the false argument is correct.

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“Our election was over at 10 in the evening. We are winning Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia by hundreds of thousands of votes. And then late in the evening or early in the morning, boom.”

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump, speaking in Washington before the proceedings began in the Capitol, was suggesting that a last-minute batch of fraudulent votes deprived him of victory in key states, when in fact what played out was a normal vote-counting process. Election officials had warned for months that counting ballots might take days or even weeks to complete, given the prevalence of absentee ballots this year. Studies and experts predicted that Mr. Trump could lead on election night in key states, but that lead could be slowly eroded as officials continue to count mail-in ballots. That is what happened in many states.

His false assertion was one of many baseless claims he has made in recent days about election fraud.Read more

By Linda QiuFact-check Reporter

“All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the state and recertify, and we become president.”

— President Trump

Vice President Mike Pence does not have the power to alter the outcome of the election. His job is simply to oversee the tallying of the Electoral Votes. Just before the proceedings began, Mr. Pence issued a statement saying that the Constitution “constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”