Congresswoman Claudia Tenney joins the podcast this week to talk about election security efforts with a focus on the newly-formed Election Integrity Caucus, which she co-chairs.
Representative Tenney was first elected to serve in the U.S. House in 2016, after winning one of the most expensive races in the nation. She was elected for a second time in November 2020, in what was yet again among the most expensive and competitive congressional races in the country. She is an accomplished attorney and longtime small business owner, and she graduated from Colgate University and the Taft College of Law at the University of Cincinnati. Representative Tenney is admitted to the bar in New York, Connecticut, Florida, and all federal courts including the United States Supreme Court.
Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg, and on today’s episode we discuss election security efforts with a focus on the newly formed Election Integrity Caucus in Congress, which is co-chaired by today’s guest, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. Representative Tenney was first elected to serve in the US House in 2016 after winning one of the most expensive races in the nation. She was elected for a second time in November 2020 in what was yet again, among the most expensive and competitive congressional races in the country. She is an accomplished attorney and longtime small business owner. She graduated from Colgate University and the Taft College of Law and the University of Cincinnati. Representative Tenney is admitted to the bar in New York, Connecticut and Florida, and all federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. Congresswoman Tenney, it is a pleasure to have you on She Thinks today.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Thank you so much. What an honor to be on. Great show. I love the title.
Something that has been consistent in US elections for the past decade that is a bipartisan concern is a growing distrust of our election process. In 2016, there were individuals in this country who struggled with believing that Donald Trump was president. Now you have in 2020, people struggling to believe that Joe Biden is the real president. I want to just start with that, is where does this concern for our election system come from, and is this a newer concern that Americans have?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Yeah, it’s an excellent question, and actually it goes back to the 2000 election where people still contend that the Supreme Court handed the election to President George Bush and we know that’s not true today. But it is something that’s critically important. Let me preface the whole problem with this idea, which I think is why people don’t have the real understanding of how important their right to vote is. We are a self-governing constitutional republic. And if you ever were a studier of Lincoln, one of our great presidents, first Republican president, one of the things he thought about and contemplated in all of his writings and during a really difficult time in our country, was can we be self-governing? Can we do it? That challenge is here today. And the question is, why don’t people vote? Why do we have people voting, you know, 30%, we’re lucky if we get 40% sometimes and people don’t feel that their vote counts. And this has been an age old problem, but they also feel like there’s some kind of shenanigans going on and that their vote isn’t really real. There’s something that they don’t trust about it.
And there’s one thing this past election brought that out, whether it was in the presidential race or in my race, but I worked with Representative Garcia, Mike Garcia, a great guy from California who also won by a very narrow margin as I did. I won by 109 votes after an exhaustive count and re-canvas of the ballots, starting on November 4th and ending on February 11th when I finally got sworn in. So we had this long exhaustive count that was presided over by a state Supreme Court justice in New York, and really was just trying to get to the bottom of everything. And the problems that we saw in this election because of so many awkward and inappropriate type of rules that were changed at the last minute in light of the pandemic in some cases, but I think in some cases, the Democrats and Andrew Cuomo in New York took advantage of the crisis and created an online database, for example, that did not have signature verification. That’s something that’s required by new York’s Constitution, allowed third parties to harvest and use that information to be able to bring voters to the polls without having a real integrity as we say, people really knowing if that person actually voted.
We had an entire county, their computer system got hacked. They were down during the entire election cycle, from early voting to absentee ballots, all the way past election day until they were finally up and running, which impacted the ability of getting good numbers. Remember, the Dominion voting machines are computer generated. They are not the mechanical voting machines that we had before the Help America Vote Act required us to go to these electronic voting machines.
So a lot of those things happened. We had ballots found on shelves. We had a pandemic where huge numbers of people were turning in absentee ballots that again were harvested in some cases. But also people were concerned about going to the polls because of the COVID virus. And we didn’t have a way for the Boards of Election to respond to those issues. We didn’t have the resources which created chaos, and this chaos caused a lot of uncertainty. Now, the uncertainty led to a very long count in my race. And a lot of people don’t feel like their vote counts. A lot of people think people are cheating. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect the integrity of our elections and make sure that they’re transparent, they’re fair, they’re private. It’s a primary goal of every state… Every state election law is to make sure that we get to vote privately. We don’t have some communist dictator looking over our shoulder, or marking our ballots and knowing how we voted so that we have to be worried about being in jeopardy for some reason for not voting for this dictatorial leader.
We have that sacred right to vote, and we want to figure out a way to make sure people realize your vote does count. We need everyone to participate in this republic, and we need everyone to understand that self-governing is better than the authoritarian alternative that the Democrats are proposing, that would be codified under their signature legislation known as H.R. 1. That’s what the Election Integrity Caucus is about. We want to educate the American people about the importance and sacredness of their vote. We also want to advocate nationwide to make sure that we strengthen security, stop the vote trafficking that’s going on. I call vote harvesting vote trafficking. Let’s call it what it is. It’s wrong, it’s illegal. And let’s safeguard elections. And then let’s make sure that we legislate and protect each of those laws that preserves are right at the ballot box, and restore the confidence that the voters need in our process. And that’s the main goal that we are… We just launched it last week. We have almost 50 members now on the Republican side. We’re hoping a Democrat will join us because this affects everyone: Republicans, Democrats, independents, or whatever party you may be in. This affects everyone, and we want everyone to feel secure about elections regardless of party.
And I’m glad you brought up the state side of this, because you just mentioned H.R. 1, which would be a federal piece of legislation that would be sweeping, that would supersede a lot of what states want to do on their own. Why do you think it’s important for states to determine on their own what they think their voting system and laws should be like? Why not have a standardized system?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Well, what H.R. 1 is, is not about fairness and integrity. It’s about a federal takeover of our election system and it’s just a raw power grab by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats. So what are they doing? H.R. 1 is the first piece of legislation that they’re putting out. It’s their signature piece of legislation. They didn’t put out the Green New Deal infrastructure. This is the number one piece of legislation they want to do, because when you get power first, you can do everything else after that and so people need to understand that’s what it’s about. But what’s really critically important about this and why it’s so important to preserve our federalism, is that the 10th Amendment and our Constitution leaves this obligation to our states, and our states can best reach each of the people in their communities and make sure that they provide the election integrity they need.
But also, H.R. 1 is dangerous in that it requires a partisanship. Instead of a bipartisan or a nonpartisan look at election law, whoever’s in charge in Washington controls everything in elections. You no longer have this concept of bipartisanship. You hear everybody throw the word around, but that’s not the case with H.R. 1. It would make it completely partisan. It would undermine states. It would require the taxpayers actually to pay for elections, which if you want to know about election integrity and how well it goes for taxpayers funding the bill for all these politicians across the nation which would be just a massive outlay of taxpayer money, just look at New York City if you want to know about integrity in elections. There’s huge problems there and the taxpayers foot the bill for most of it. So that’s one of the big problems.
Another thing it does, which really undermines integrity, is it bans, and I’m not talking about, it actually bans voter ID. So you can’t go in and prove that you are who you are. So if somebody walks in and brings in an idea and says, “I’m John Smith and I want to vote for John Smith.” You come in to vote and they’re going to be, “Sorry, John Smith’s already been in here.” And I’m like, “Well, I claim I’m John Smith.” There’s no way to prove that somebody isn’t cheating or being unfair. And I think people have great access to voter IDs now. Most Americans, actually, when polled, support voter ID. The Democrats want to tell you we want to suppress the vote. That’s entirely untrue. There’s nothing more important as I said at the top of this podcast, is that we want to make sure every American votes. We think it’s sacred. We think it’s part of your obligation as a citizen to go out and express your vote. It’s the best thing that you can do to preserve a self-governing republic, and that’s what we are.
And H.R. 1, where is it in the process right now? You mentioned that this is what they pushed forward, even ahead of infrastructure and a Green New Deal and anything like that. Where is it in the process and how concerned should Americans be that this could actually pass not just the House, but the Senate and that President Biden could sign it?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Well, this is very concerning because it has passed the House. All but one Democrat, and I’m not sure the reason he didn’t vote for it. But when someone tells you they don’t care about power, they care about bipartisanship on the Democratic side, or they want to be a moderate, every Democrat voted for this highly partisan bill, except one. And it has already passed the Congress and it is now headed to the Senate and they’re debating it and looking at voting for it. We got to hang on and hope that Joe Manchin, Senator Manchin doesn’t go down this path. He’s indicated he’s not, which means that we can hopefully escape this terrible change in our law. And really the change in the country altogether, violating every aspect of our election law and our constitutional principles. There are alternatives that the Senate is looking at that may get sent back to the house. We haven’t seen the full text of those yet. I’m sure it’s not going to be good.
But look, this is a power grab of epic proportions. They are trying to take elections forever. They’re even preventing states and other jurisdictions from verifying that someone may have voted twice in an election. And as I indicated before, we want everyone to vote, but we want everyone to vote in every election but just once. We don’t want people voting multiple times. We don’t want people who are not eligible to vote, to vote. We want to make sure that process is safe and secure. That’s how we get people to vote, is by thinking and knowing that they have integrity and that we’re safeguarding the ballot box.
And not too long ago, there was of course the huge uproar and media coverage of the Georgia election law. I saw some of the hyperbolic language used against that and some of the false hoods spread about the Georgian election law, unlike anything I think I’ve seen before. The claim that this was worse than Jim Crow laws, so the racist claims that were being thrown at it. What have you seen, especially in your role on this caucus, as far as the push to undermine any type of states that want to secure elections and legislation that multiple states are looking at now?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Well, look, the Democrats are engaging in what I call election integrity suppression. They’re trying to suppress any ability to provide election integrity, to ensure that we have safeguards in place. And the Georgia law actually is, this is incredible. The Georgia law is actually less restrictive than the New York law, which is one of the most liberal of all in the country. Interesting though, New York’s Constitution actually requires a signature match, which is a form of ID back before it was passed originally before that. But a signature match and ID, some way to know that one person voted and that person doesn’t get to vote again.
In my race, in that really long, complicated race, we did actually have people who attempted to vote twice. We also had people that submitted absentee ballots who had been deceased earlier in the year, as far back as April and May. Those ballots thankfully were recovered and rejected by the boards of elections. So we have to emphasize, we want every legal vote to count. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, is make sure that that happens, every legal vote. Every person gets one vote in each election. And that’s what’s so… We want to really emphasize the attempts to suppress the ability to make free and fair elections is really what the Democrats are trying to do to sort of hoodwink people into thinking H.R. 1 is the answer.
I want to talk a little bit about what the solution is, especially in light of what COVID did open up in voting in 2020, and that is this idea of mail-in balloting. We were used to absentee ballots for so many years, especially for military or people who couldn’t leave their homes or were ill. What is your perspective on mail-in balloting? Do you think that that’s something that can remain expanded beyond just the typical absentee ballot? But how do we keep it safe and secure, and making sure it is just one person who says that they are the person they say they are, and they only vote once?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Yes, it’s very difficult with no excuse, mail-in ballots, which is what causes a lot of the problems. And this is going to be particularly an acute problem if they ban voter ID. In some states they don’t have a voter ID required, which is actually in New York. So there’s no way to prove who’s actually filling out that ballot and sending it in. There’s no way to match it up if you don’t have voter ID or a signature match. You don’t know what third party is delivering that ballot to the ballot box. There’s a real lack of controls on that.
One of the issues that we encountered in our race, for example, in New York’s 22nd District, we have 11 colleges and students are allowed to vote once they register at the PO box, for example, at Binghamton University which is in my district, a great SUNY system college that has got a wonderful curriculum. But those students in their four years at Binghamton, they can register to vote in our community. And once they leave and they don’t purge their ballot or their application, or even if they reregister in another jurisdiction, there’s no way that we know if they’re going to be submitting a ballot, and they’re able to actually send a ballot in from just about anywhere and to vote in that election. And who’s to know if they voted in another election, say, in their new jurisdiction where they voted? So there’s no way for jurisdictions to work with each other and to coordinate these mail-in ballots. And that’s why the issue with drop boxes is also interesting, is if you can just drop a ballot into a box without having some timeliness, the problem is at some point election day has to begin and end.
And the reason I say that is one of the most important aspects of my election that people should understand, is at the end we found out that there were 2,400 people who submitted applications to become registered voters on time, within the timeframe to be eligible to vote in the November 3rd election. Because the board of elections had so many requests, they weren’t able to actually register those voters. The judge thought that was unfair because they did their applications on time. It turned out nearly 400 people submitted ballots, even though that there was… They got a provisional ballot because it did not show that they were registered voters. And the judge actually required the board of elections in January and February of 2021, to register those voters based on the application, to verify that they are 18 years old, that they are citizens eligible to vote, that they don’t appear on the felony roles which should make them ineligible, and those votes were counted in the November 3rd election. That actually pulled me ahead by almost a hundred more votes when the judge actually did that.
But that’s how far this judge was willing to go. He didn’t stop at some procedural gate. We were actually doing this in the next year. And so kudos to the judge for actually having the diligence to make this happen, but we don’t want this to happen again in any other race. We don’t want our boards of elections and our commissioners to be so overwhelmed that they can’t even get ballots uploaded, I mean, applications uploaded. So that’s why it’s so important that we give them the resources. We ensure election integrity. And one thing we can do is standardize some of the languages, either a guideline or a model code that we could put out on how elections should be run and conducted, which are the safest and fairest ways. That’s among the many missions that we’re working on with Representative Garcia on this, and the many members of our caucus who are all contributing their input and their issues as well. And not to mention, we’ll be doing round tables that are virtual on the perils and pitfalls of H.R. 1. We’re doing round tables on the merits of voter ID. We’re bringing in experts from all around the country to talk about how to improve election integrity. These are key issues and these are things that we think the public should know.
And just moving beyond this before we let you go, we have a lot of people who listen to this podcast that are concerned about the direction of the country. They’ve seen even most recently gas prices going up. They have seen violence in Israel. They are talking about whether or not they can trust the CDC. They’re seeing the potential of inflation. The market seems a little bit insecure at this time. You all are facing a lot on Capitol Hill. What has it been like in the Biden administration in his first, a little over a hundred days now? What has it been to fight against some of these policies that we see coming out?
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Well, Beverly, I thought, I hope they don’t destroy this country in four years. They may be destroying it in four months. As you just highlighted, there are so many major issues happening in the country. I’ve spent the entire weekend in my district and people are very concerned. I hear from constituents every day that are very concerned about all of those things you cited. The constant violence in Israel. The market potentially tanking. Inflation on the rise. Dealing with this gas crisis, the energy crisis, because of the shutdown of so many of our alternative energy sources, including natural gas and others that are abundant in New York state and around the country. And this focus on the Green New Deal, with a rather far left aspect of it, as opposed to a more moderate view of it.
And then there’s again the crisis on the border. I toured the Southern border myself and saw the horrific human trafficking that’s happening there. And I’m concerned. Kamala Harris was talking about the Space Force and what we’ll be doing in space. But I mean, I’m worried, is she going to go to the moon before she actually goes to the Southern border to see what’s happening? I don’t know how many days it’s been since she’s been appointed in this task force, but I saw children being trafficked and being brought across the border in overcrowded detention centers, and children who were being shipped on planes when I got to the airport in El Paso, to other parts of the country. And I also witnessed in my own district, there are letters being sent to people who are government employees, asking them to foster children from the border and they would be given bonuses and additional taxpayer money to incentivize them to do that.
We are heading in the wrong direction. A lot of this was a knee-jerk reaction by President Biden. Everything that Donald Trump did, he’s trying to undo. And I’m very concerned that that knee-jerk reaction isn’t looking at the policy. They may not like Donald Trump, but some of the policies are really good. In fact, I support the tax cuts, which brought on our great economy that we have now. I supported cutting down needless regulations. We supported unleashing our energy and our entrepreneurism. Signing the USMCA and working with our biggest trading partner in Canada, and making that better for the United States and better for our workers, focusing on the workers in my community.
Where I live is where the industrial revolution started when they put the first shovel in the ground, creating the Erie Canal back in the 1800s. We’ve lost so much of that. IBM was founded in my district. Oneida. You hear about Oneida silver and Oneida China and all that, all founded in my district. Most of those jobs are gone. We’ve got to bring the jobs back. We’ve got to bring this country back. We have to talk about preserving our history, but moving forward and being better than we are now in the future. And I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime and I get that feeling from people all around the nation. We’re worried about our security. It breaks my heart to see what’s happening in Israel. And I’m concerned that we’re going to see this erupting all over the country as our president and the Democrats keep projecting weakness. We need to be strong economically, and we need to be strong diplomatically in order to preserve what we have as Americans.
And that’s why we’re so thankful that there are wonderful members of Congress fighting the good fight like you on Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Tenney from the great state of New York, thank you so much for all you are doing and for joining us on She Thinks, today.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney:
Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be on She Thinks. I appreciate it.
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