Updated Jan 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 panel, Senate “out of sync” on election reform

Rep. Zoe Lofgren is seen sitting with colleagues during a meeting of the Jan. 6 Select Committee.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (left) sits with colleagues during a meeting of the Jan. 6 select committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee and the U.S. Senate are on a potential collision course over reforms to the Electoral Count Act — a law from 1887 that President Trump tried to commandeer a year ago to return himself to office.

Why it matters: A bipartisan group of senators is considering a variety of changes, yet the committee is weighing dozens of its own recommendations. A concern already echoed by several Democrats is that a quick fix to the act may undercut a more meaningful, long-term change.

  • "I think it may appear out of sync because on the eve of the Senate taking up voting rights legislation, some Republican opponents launched this discussion of Electoral Count Act reform," Stephen Spaulding, former counsel for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), told Axios. "Reforming the Electoral Count Act is important, but wholly insufficient."
  • Lofgren herself sits both on the Jan. 6 panel and chairs a separate House committee working on election reform.
  • "If you look at the myriad of ways that elections can be subverted, the Electoral Count Act only touches a piece of that around congressional floor action," said Marc Elias, an election laws specialist who's been used by many members of the Democratic Party and party committees themselves.
  • A committee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Axios.

The big picture: As Axios reported Wednesday, the bipartisan group of senators is considering reform to the role of the vice president as outlined in the act as part of a broader push to strengthen election legislation.

  • Trump tried to exploit the act's vague language to have then-Vice President Mike Pence overrule the results of the 2020 election.
  • Among the changes under consideration is clarifying that the vice president's role is merely ceremonial — not empowered.

The Jan. 6 select committee also is zeroing in on the act as part of a broader array of recommendations that will follow its investigation and future public hearings.

  • The committee is months away from issuing an interim report that would contain any such recommendations.
  • In addition, House committees are considering raising the threshold of what it takes to object to the certification of an individual state's election results.

Under the act as currently written, just one senator and one House member can team up to do so, triggering up to a four-hour debate that could be repeated for each of the 50 states.

  • The Jan. 6 uprising occurred as lawmakers were considering a challenge to the 2020 presidential election results from Arizona — a state early in the alphabetical roll call of states.

The bottom line: It's a long way away—but if the Senate moves first and makes changes to the Electoral Count Act by itself, trying to reconcile it with a House version or recommendations from the select committee could become a new point of contention in the aftermath of Jan. 6.

  • At least one Senate staffer close to the bipartisan group’s discussions suggested any alarm in the House is overblown.
  • The staffer said the group's discussions are still at an early stage, and it is nowhere close to finalizing reform recommendations.
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