New York Republicans who objected to the results of the 2020 election are on the ballot in midterm House races that could determine control of Congress. Another is running for governor.
Democrats have sought to tie Republicans to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and their support for former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud and irregularities in the election he lost.
“Facts have to matter, truth has to matter,” New York Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, a former Democratic congressman from an Upstate swing district who upheld election results after the mob vacated the Capitol, told the USA TODAY Network New York.
Delgado is running with Gov. Kathy Hochul, who faces a challenge from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of 147 Republicans who objected to the 2020 election results hours after Trump demanded in a speech that members of Congress “do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated.”
Two other objectors running for office are from New York: Nicole Malliotakis and Elise Stefanik, both seeking re-election to the House. Another congresswoman, Claudia Tenney, has indicated she would have challenged results given the chance.
Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the USA TODAY Network New York asked the four officials two questions: Do they stand by their vote? And do they believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president? Only one candidate responded. For those that didn’t, the Network compiled their past public statements on the 2020 election.
Lee Zeldin (NY-01)
Zeldin, R-Shirley, objected to results from both Arizona and Pennsylvania. He didn’t respond to requests for comment, but told The New York Times in a story published Wednesday night that Biden’s victory was legitimate.
At an early September press conference in Manhattan, Zeldin defended his vote because “non-state legislative actors” changed how election laws were administered in the name of the pandemic without seeking permission.
He added that Democrats have also objected to results for Republican presidents. Several House Republicans have echoed this after the 2020 election.
“Do you know that every Jan. 6, every four years, whenever any Republican has been elected president over the course of the last few decades, same date, same time, same place, we have had Democrats on the floor of the House of Representatives, objecting and debating?” Zeldin told reporters. “All sorts of different objections, that’s been our process.”
Legally speaking, it’s the same, Derek Muller, a University of Iowa constitutional law professor, wrote in an email. But in no circumstance did anyone take it seriously both chambers of Congress would reject electoral votes.
However, aside from a small number of Democratic objectors in past elections, all prior presidential candidates had already conceded. Trump continues to falselysay the election was stolen.
The 2020 election had a coordinated effort — federal and state court cases, attempts to install fake electors, pushing for former Vice President Mike Pence to intercede in Congress’ certification, and, eventually, a deadly riot — to overturn results. It was also the most litigated election in history, said Rick Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at New York University. Republicans lost dozens of court cases over claims of fraud.
“It’s important not to look at the objections in isolation from the larger context, which was very different in 2020, than in those earlier years,” he said.
Nicole Malliotakis (NY-11)
Malliotakis, R-Staten Island, didn’t respond to requests for comment about her objecting vote.
In a January 2021 Staten Island Advance op-ed, Malliotakis pointed to previous elections dating back to 1988 in which Democrats objected. She added that 70% of House Republicans voted as she did.
Like Democrats in previous elections, she added, her objective wasn’t to overturn the election.
“The analogy is obviously false,” said Max Rose, the former Democratic congressman Malliotakis ousted in 2020 who is now challenging her for the seat. “A third-grader could tell you that.”
Elise Stefanik (NY-21)
Stefanik, R-Essex County, defended her vote objecting to results from Pennsylvania but not Arizona.
“I stand by my objection to the electors of certain states based on the unconstitutional overreach by unelected state officials and judges ignoring state election laws,” she said in a statement.
Stefanik is the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, after she ousted outgoing Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, whose role investigating Jan. 6 cost her the party’s support and ultimately her House seat. Stefanik remains a staunch ally of the former president.
Matt Castelli, who is challenging Stefanik for her deep-red North Country seat, said Stefanik’s responses about Jan. 6 are antithetical to the oath she swore to the Constitution when taking office.
“We have not yet had true transparency, accountability and justice for what happened on January 6,” he said. “We certainly still have an opportunity at the ballot box to hold folks like Elise Stefanik accountable for her criminal and traitorous actions.”
Claudia Tenney (NY-22)
After winning her race by just over 100 votes, Tenney, R-Utica, took office a month after Jan. 6. She didn’t vote on certifying the election results, but she’s a staunch ally of Trump. She didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In February 2021, she told NPR-affiliate WRVO she didn’t object to Biden as president, but she was unsure how she would have voted on certifying the election. She might have objected to Pennsylvania’s results, she added.
“There were so many cases where we didn’t really get to the bottom of it and the cases seem questionable,” she told WRVO. “But at that point, I really would’ve been torn.”
Tenney is now running in the redrawn 24th District.
How this plays in midterms
Denying 2020 election results can get Republican candidates for Congress support depending on their district, said Tom Doherty, a partner at Mercury Public Affairs who served under former Gov. George Pataki, the last Republican to hold the state’s top office. It is also a national GOP issue that contributed to Cheney’s ouster from leadership and her primary loss in Wyoming, the state that gave Trump’s highest margin of victory in 2020.
“No rocket science involved,” he said. “You’re either with them or against them.”
But in New York State, Democrats outnumber Republicans, which could make an upset more challenging for Zeldin. Polls indicate Hochul holds a lead over him, though it’s shrunk in recent weeks.
“It’s tough when you need to be a more moderate Republican,” Doherty said.
There’s bipartisan support in Congress to reform the 1887 Electoral Count Act that Trump sought to exploit: using the vice president to throw out election results, delaying counting state votes, and changing state electors that go against the actual popular vote.
Under current election law, there’s nothing from stopping officials from overturning the next election, as Trump attempted, said Matthew Seligman, a fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.
“Now we’re not talking about protest votes,” he said. “Now we’re talking about this could actually steal a presidential election.”