Bipartisan group pushes reforms to protect election officials
A bipartisan group seeking to update the Electoral Count Act of 1887 has other election reforms in mind, including creating federal penalties for harassing and intimidating state election officials — with improperly removing them among the punishable offenses, Axios has learned.
Why it matters: The 50-50 Senate is unlikely to pass broad-based bills like the Freedom to Vote Act or the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, so the ECA has emerged as a consensus target for more limited election changes.
- The group also has discussed providing states with more leeway to spend federal election grants.
- In addition, it's discussed reauthorizing legislation that created the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency assisting states with election administration.
But, but, but: While there isn't much discordance about changes to the Electoral Count Act, issues like election worker protections are more contentious within the group.
- Some senators are wary of federal overreach, according to a source familiar with the group's discussions.
- Part of the opposition to the broader bills stems from their federal expansions of ballot access and campaign finance reforms.
- The more broadly supported changes discussed to the ECA include increasing the number of people who would need to object to a state's election results — from the current one senator and one representative — and clarifying that the role of the vice president in the process is merely ceremonial.
- President Trump tried to use the ECA to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Between the lines: Some Democrats in the group, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), are waiting until after votes on the broader bills and proposed filibuster changes before fully engaging, a Shaheen aide told Axios.
A vote on the Freedom to Vote Act could come as early as Wednesday.
- "Listening to additional ideas while also supporting — and cosponsoring voting rights legislation — are not mutually exclusive," Sarah Weinstein, a spokesperson for Shaheen, tweeted earlier this month.
- Justin Goodman, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, stressed Democratic leaders haven't tried to stifle bipartisan work even as they forge ahead with votes on the broader legislation.
- “Democrats have been trying to negotiate with Republicans on election reforms for a year. Schumer publicly encouraged it when [Manchin] was trying,” Goodman told Axios.
The Democrats' reluctance to get ahead of their leadership on election reform is impacting more groups than just the bipartisan one.
- A group of Senate Democrats that includes Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has been working on Electoral Count Act reform since last March. It too is holding off discussion until after the Senate votes on voting rights.
- They've been clear that Electoral Count Act reform is independent of efforts to expand access to the ballot, and that one is not a substitute for the other.
- Senators also are approaching Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on virtually a daily basis about joining the group, according to a source with knowledge of the membership. One of the new members is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), no stranger to bipartisan election reform proposals.
What's next: The groups are both expected to reconvene shortly after the last votes on the comprehensive package and any rules changes this week.
- The bipartisan group will be focused on striking agreement on the easier issues and plotting a path forward, which may include eventually coming together with King's group, one source told Axios.