WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday proposed new legislation to modernize the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act, and is working to revise a law that President Donald J. Trump tried to abuse on Jan. 6, 2021 to override Congressional certification. upset his election defeat.
The legislation aims to ensure a peaceful transition from one president to another, after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol exposed how the current law could be manipulated to disrupt the process. One measure would make it harder for lawmakers to contest a state’s electoral votes when Congress meets to count them. It would also clarify that the vice president has no discretion over the results, and it would outline the steps to begin a presidential transition.
A second bill would increase penalties for threats and intimidation of election officials, improve the postal service’s handling of ballot papers, and renew an independent federal agency that helps states administer and secure federal elections for five years.
While the passage of the legislation cannot guarantee that a repeat of January 6 will not happen in the future, the authors believe that a rewrite of the outdated law, particularly the provisions regarding the role of the vice president, would could discourage such efforts and make it more difficult to disrupt the vote count.
Alarmed by the events of January 6 that showed long-standing flaws in the law governing the electoral process, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, had met for months to trying to reach agreement on the rewrite.
“In four of the past six presidential elections, this process has been abused, with members of both parties expressing frivolous objections to election votes,” Ms Collins said Wednesday. “But the violent breakthrough of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was necessary to really highlight the urgent need for reform.”
In a joint statement, the 16 senators involved in the talks said they plan to fix “the flaws” of the Electoral Count Act, which they called “archaic and ambiguous”. The statement said the group believed that, in consultation with electoral law experts, it had “developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for president and vice president.”
While the authors are one short of the 10 Republican senators needed to guarantee the election counting bill would pass through a filibuster and be finally approved if all Democrats back it, they said they hoped to get enough support. get it up for a vote later this year.
Ms Collins said she expected the Senate committee to hold a hearing on the measures before the August recess. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and the panel chair, was consulted in the drafting of the legislation.
The bills were announced on the eve of a prime-time hearing by the House committee investigating the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, including Mr. Trump’s multi-layered attempt to invalidate his defeat. They also came as an investigation intensified into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to reverse the results of the Georgia presidential election. A Georgia judge has ordered Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had spearheaded the reversal of the election results on behalf of Trump, to appear before a special grand jury in Atlanta next month.
Key Revelations from the January 6 Hearings
Legislative efforts in the Senate began in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, which unfolded as Congress met for the traditionally routine ballot count, the last official confirmation of presidential election results before the inauguration. In the run-up to the riots, Mr. Trump unsuccessfully tried to convince Vice President Mike Pence — who chaired the session in his capacity as Senate president — to unilaterally block the count, citing false allegations of voter fraud.
The new legislation focuses on electoral vote treatment and does not include broader voting protections that Democrats seek after some states introduced new laws that made it more difficult for people to vote after Democratic victories in 2020. Senate Republicans previously blocked those ballot measures. .
While there may be disagreement over specific provisions, there is a widespread feeling in Congress that some steps need to be taken to strengthen the Electoral Count Act, which Mr Manchin said on Wednesday was “armed” on Jan. 6.
Proponents of the legislation were optimistic they could win passage this year, viewing that time frame as their best chance given the prospect of Republicans, many of whom supported the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the House afterward. can check year.
“The Electoral Count Act needs to be enacted,” Kentucky Republican and minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. He said Ms Collins had kept him informed of the bipartisan negotiations and that he had “sympathy” for the aims of those working on the legislation.
Under the bill to revise the vote count, a state’s governor would be identified as the sole official responsible for submitting a state’s electoral roll after the presidential election, while other officials are not allowed to do so. That provision was intended to ward off efforts similar to those of Mr. Trump and his backers, who sought to advance their own set of voters who were not recognized by the states and did not reflect the popular vote. .
In an effort to avoid unwarranted attempts to object to a state’s electoral count, a minimum of one-fifth of both the House and Senate would be required to file an objection — significantly raising the current one-member threshold of the House and one senator. Objections would still have to be supported by a majority of both the House and Senate.
The bill would also create a new accelerated route for a candidate to challenge a state’s electoral roll. Under the proposal, those claims would be heard by a special panel of three judges with a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
Following a deadlock over the 2020 presidential transition, when Trump administration officials initially refused to provide Mr. Biden with funding and office space to begin preparations to take power, the legislation would allow more than one candidate to receive transitional funds if the outcome holds. disagreement.
And after pressure from Mr. Trump and his allies to get Mr. Pence to manipulate the electoral count in Mr. Trump’s favour, legislation would provide that the vice president’s role is primarily ceremonial and that “he or she has no powers to solely establish, accept, reject or otherwise settle disputes about voters,” a summary of the measure said.
“I think it’s important to make sure the details are cleared up by Jan. 6, in terms of any kind of question about the vice president’s role,” said Virginia Senator Mark Warner, one of the Democrats behind the law.
In addition to Ms. Collins, the other Republican members of the bipartisan group who are behind the electoral reform are Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse. from Nebraska, Thom Tillis from North Carolina and Todd Young from Indiana.
In addition to Mr. Manchin and Mr. Warner, the Democrats are Senators Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.