A Democratic Norm Endures January 6th: Congress and Deference to States’ Election Certifications

Elections & Members By Kevin R. Kosar January 2, 2024

The U.S. Congress rarely overturns elections to either of its chambers. Legislators tend to follow
a norm of deference to election results lawfully submitted by states. This longstanding norm is
the product of the Constitution, federal law, and habit. Yet, on January 6, 2021, the national
legislature flirted with violating that norm and denying the presidency to Joseph Biden based on spurious claims of electoral fraud. Fortunately, legislators from both parties forged strong
majorities to uphold the norm and subsequently reaffirmed it during Congress’s review of a
disputed Iowa congressional election. Viewing these events closely reveals both that those who
sought to discard or uphold a norm argued from within the American democratic tradition and
that partisan calculations were paramount.


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