A group of US senators say they will refuse to certify Joe Biden’s election victory unless a commission is set up to investigate alleged voter fraud. The 11 senators and senators-elect, led by Ted Cruz, want a 10-day delay to audit the unsubstantiated allegations.
The move is not expected to succeed as most senators are expected to endorse Biden in the 6 January vote.
President Donald Trump has refused to concede, repeatedly alleging fraud without providing any evidence.
His legal efforts to overturn results have been overwhelmingly rejected by the courts. He has only one minor win, concerning a small number of postal ballots in Pennsylvania, one of the states Biden won in last year’s race.
Vice-President Mike Pence has stopped short of echoing Trump’s allegations of election fraud. But on Saturday, his chief of staff Marc Short said Pence “welcomes” this latest effort by lawmakers to “raise objections” on 6 January.
Congress is due on that day to certify last month’s verdict by the US Electoral College – a body that awards points for each state won by presidential candidates in November’s election.
The college concluded that Biden won the race by 306-232, but this must be affirmed by Congress in what is normally a straightforward procedure.
At the end of the process, Vice-President Pence – in his capacity as president of the Senate – will be left to declare Biden the winner.
Biden and his vice-president, Kamala Harris, will then be sworn into office on 20 January.
However in a statement, the 11 senators led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz said November’s election had “featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities”.
An investigation by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) found no evidence to back any claims of fraud.
Citing a precedent from 1877 – when a bi-partisan committee was formed to investigate after both parties claimed victory in three states – they urged Congress to appoint a commission for an “emergency 10-day audit of 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,” they said.
However they said their bid was unlikely to succeed. “We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise,” they said.
Their move is separate from that of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who has also said he will reject the Electoral College result over election integrity concerns.
A group of Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, is also planning to contest the election results.
With at least a dozen Republican senators now planning to challenge the election results in Congress, it is clear – if it wasn’t already – that the party’s heart continues to be with Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his presidential loss.
The effort will be futile, given the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, but the goal for many of these politicians is not to pull off a miraculous reversal of fortune for the president. Instead, it is to curry favour with Trump’s loyal base.
They are wagering that the road to success in the Republican Party will continue to run through Trump and his faithful, whose support could be invaluable to senators with presidential ambitions, like Ted Cruz of Texas or Josh Hawley of Missouri, or ones concerned about future primary opposition from pro-Trump politicians.
This is not the first time members of Congress dismayed by the outcome of a presidential election have objected during the largely ceremonial counting of Electoral College votes. It will, however, be the largest such revolt in nearly a century and a half.
It is a sign that the partisan rancour in the US, exacerbated by Trump’s scorched-earth fight to hold on to the presidency, will not fade away anytime soon.