Wednesday’s riot in the U.S. Capitol didn’t shake Rep. Adrian Smith’s belief that he was right to join other Republicans who objected to Electoral College votes from several states that backed Democrat Joe Biden for president.
But Smith, who represents much of rural Nebraska, said his objective was not to make Trump the winner instead of Biden. Instead, he said, he wanted to publicly air longstanding concerns about elections, including worries that states have gone too far in relaxing rules for mail-in voting and verifying signatures.
“It goes back to even before these past two presidential elections,” said Smith, who tried to pass legislation requiring voter identification while in the Nebraska Legislature. “I’ve seen an attempt to relax voter registration standards that I think is dangerous to our republic.”
Smith expressed frustration that congressional Democrats, election experts and reporters dismiss the objectors’ concerns. Voters he talks to in the 3rd Congressional District, he said, worry about more than just the result of the 2020 presidential race.
Some of them question whether they should vote at all, fearing that their votes will be diluted by voters in states with different rules, Smith said.
“I don’t think there’s a full appreciation for how much that turns so many of the American people off to the entire process,” he said.
Voting rights advocates nationally and in Nebraska have argued that the additional restrictions that Smith and other Republicans say are needed to make voting more secure would make voting harder for poor people and people of color.
The 2020 election saw record turnout in many states, partly because of the hotly contested presidential race and partly because states encouraged people to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Republican objections centered on the way certain states that voted for Biden made it easier to vote by mail.
Trump had urged Congress to reject the Electoral College results from those key states. After the rioters broke in, Smith spent six hours sequestered by Capitol Police with other lawmakers in the windowless basement of a nearby office building. He said the president “could’ve been more helpful” in calming the situation more quickly.
Smith said he was disturbed by the photographs he saw of what happened in the Capitol, including one of a rioter sitting in the presiding officer’s chair in the Senate chamber.
“It’s not just sad,” he said. “It should concern everyone.”
But he said he disagreed with Democrats, including Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb, that GOP objectors and other Republicans contributed to what happened by questioning how voting procedures were followed in several states.