The Election Crisis We Dodged

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.)

After nearly a week of drama over who would wield the speaker’s gavel, the members of the new House of Representatives have been sworn in and started their work. That gets the nation safely past one crisis that didn’t happen, this time at least: a partisan push to prevent the seating of members or whole delegations as having been elected under flawed laws.

I’m not talking here about the case of New York Rep. George Santos, who won election on Long Island after lying extravagantly about his biography and qualifications. The Supreme Court made sufficiently clear in the 1969 case of Powell v. McCormack that so long as candidates meet the constitutional prerequisites for service and are duly elected, they must be seated.

I’m referring instead to the audacious proposal laid out by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias in 2021. Elias had been among outspoken critics of laws passed in Georgia and other states—notoriously described by President Joe Biden as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century”—that did things like roll back some pandemic-driven expansions of early and by-mail voting, tighten voter ID provisions, and make it easier to remove inactive voters from the rolls. What Elias proposed, as Roll Call politics editor Herb Jackson described it, was “that the House Democratic majority refuse to seat newly elected Republicans from states that imposed the restrictions.”

“Congress should reaffirm the House’s promise in 1965 to refuse to seat, or to unseat, members who benefit from discriminatory voting laws,” Elias wrote. “If there ever was a need for it to do so, it is now.”

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