Jan 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Electoral act reform picks up growing bipartisan support

Rep. Jim Banks is seen speaking on a cellphone.

Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

An increasingly broad and powerful array of lawmakers is coalescing around the idea of changing how Congress tallies Electoral College votes — as MLK Day comes and goes on Monday without broader voting rights reforms.

Why it matters: The idea of targeting the 1887 Electoral Count Act for repairs has now garnered support from some of Congress’ most conservative members, as well as leading House Democrats. It may be the best chance of passing any form of election reform in an otherwise divided Congress.

  • Former President Trump sought to use the act to have then-Vice President Mike Pence block certification of the 2020 election results.
  • "It's a muddled, flawed [act] and Congress must clarify the essential process of certifying elections," Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who objected to certifying the Arizona and Pennsylvania electors last year, said in a statement to Axios.
  • Banks, who leads the 158-member Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, is a bellwether for the median House GOP position.
  • Banks said he's open to alterations as long as it's not a "Trojan horse" for Democrats' broader election measures.

Driving the news: A bipartisan group of senators working on a proposal that can pass the Senate has nearly doubled in size, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), an original member of the group, said Sunday.

  • The group, originally three Democrats and four Republicans, now has “about 12” members, Romney said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
  • Among the expanded membership: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), his spokesperson confirmed.
  • "We're going to ... work together, and I think it's important to reform the Electoral Count Act," Romney added.
  • Most reformists agree on two core changes: raising the threshold for objections beyond just a single senator and representative, and clarifying the role of the vice president as merely ceremonial.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both say they support altering the act.

  • “I have been calling for a reform of the Electoral College for most of my adult life,” Clyburn told ABC News.
  • Like other Democrats, Clyburn maintained it's still not an ideal substitute for expanding ballot access through broader legislation.
  • Both the Freedom to Vote Act — backed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are being pushed by Democratic leaders.

Besides Banks, some of Congress' other right-leaning Republicans are open to reform — including those who objected to certifying the 2020 election results last year.

  • They include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a firm Trump ally who initially planned on voting for election objections but ultimately opted against it.
  • Johnson told Axios he's receptive to the argument there are "problems" with the law as written.
  • "I understand people saying: 'Huh, maybe something should be taken a look at.' ... I'm always happy to look at things."

Between the lines: The siloed efforts from at least three groups means there are still lots of details to be resolved before any legislation can pass Congress.

  • A House bill in the works is expected to pick and choose from seven proposals in a House Appropriations Committee report, as first reported by Axios.
  • The bipartisan Senate group is expected to zero in on some consensus reforms in the coming weeks.
  • And another group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) also is working on a bill that includes Electoral Count Act reforms.

Editor‘s note: Updates with membership of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

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