Feb 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senators start drawing red lines in Electoral Count Act push

Illustration of hands drawing red lines over the US Capitol. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As bipartisan negotiations to update the Electoral Count Act of 1887 grow in breadth and intensity, senators from both parties are starting to draw their red lines.

Why it matters: Democrats once fixated on sweeping election reform packages. Republicans were equally committed to opposing wide-ranging federal election changes. New drop-dead conditions can still poison the new negotiations but also indicate movement from these opening positions.

  • "The Republicans blocked us. So, now we're looking to see, can we offer some protection? Some is not as good as full protection, but it's better than nothing," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told Axios.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stressed during a joint CNN interview with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Sunday that the group is taking a “Goldilocks approach” to “try to find what’s just right."

  • Beyond ECA, the members are discussing election worker protections and ballot safeguards.
  • Manchin even signaled a voter access component is still in the mix.

What we're hearing: Some Democrats say they want a rigorous amendment process to the bill in exchange for supporting changes to the ECA.

  • "I'm thinking about the sort of floor amendments we might want, to make that a more robust bill," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told Axios.
  • For example, he'd favor an amendment requiring "complete transparency of campaign finance contributions."
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who's leading negotiations on a Democrats-only ECA overhaul bill, and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also want any agreement to be amendable when the Senate finally debates it.
  • Schatz said he's fearful of an effort to "simplify this problem, and to legislate so we can check the box as 'democracy saved.'"

Meanwhile, Republicans are warning the legislation needs to be narrow.

The bigger the bill, they say, the harder it will be to add and earn votes from GOP members who support it.

  • “I think our best bet is the Electoral Count Act. Resolving that would be a show of good faith and an accomplishment," Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Axios.
  • Anything more sweeping, Wicker said, is "a reach. It's a reach."
  • “There are certain areas that would more or less collapse any support, if we’re talking about federal preemption" of state election controls, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said.
  • Both Wicker and Tillis are members of the bipartisan group led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) working on ECA reform.

Reality check: There's no bill text from the bipartisan group, and there haven't been any hearings.

  • The external jockeying will only intensify as members move closer to a deal.

What's next: The two groups — the one led by Sens. Durbin, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Angus King (I-Maine), and the bipartisan one — met last week.

  • They're expected to combine forces at some point to offer joint legislation.
  • The bipartisan group was scheduled to meet again on Monday evening.

Go deeper: Bipartisan infrastructure group takes on election reform

Go deeper