Jul 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senators unveil bipartisan legislation to reform counting of electors

Illustration of a torn ballot with an elephant behind it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A bipartisan group of 16 senators introduced legislation on Wednesday to reform and modernize the Electoral Count Act of 1887, including by clarifying the role of the vice president in certifying presidential elections.

Why it matters: The bill, if passed by the House and Senate, would mark the first major legislative response to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the events that it preceded it.

  • It's the culmination of months of negotiations by senators — led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — who set out find common ground on electoral reform after Republicans first expressed interest in January.

Details: The first bill is narrowly focused on reforming the 1887 law that former President Trump tried to exploit to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

  • It clarifies that the role of the vice president is solely ceremonial with no power to unilaterally reject electors, which Trump and lawyer John Eastman were pressuring former Vice President Mike Pence to do to prevent President Biden from winning.
  • The bill would raise the threshold to lodge an objection to the certification of a state's electors to at least one-fifth of the members of both the House and Senate, rather than simply one member from each chamber.
  • It would also provides clear guidelines for the transfer of power between Election Day and inauguration.
  • With 9 Republicans, the bill is on the cusp of getting enough GOP support to pass the Senate's 60-vote threshold.

The second bill, which only has five Republican co-sponsors, creates penalties for intimidation of election workers, voters, and candidates.

  • It would also improve the handling of election mail by the U.S. Postal Service and reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a federal agency that assists states with election administration.
  • In addition to Manchin and Collins, the bipartisan group of senators involved in the negotiations includes Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

What they're saying: "From the beginning, our bipartisan group has shared a vision of drafting legislation to fix the flaws of the archaic and ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887," the senators said in a joint statement. 

  • "We have developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for President and Vice President. We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, commonsense reforms."
  • "The January 6th Commission has added urgency to what we made clear in the draft proposal we released in February: there are straightforward and sorely-needed steps we can take to protect and modernize the electoral count process – steps that the election law experts across the political spectrum we worked with can support," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said.

What's next: The Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing on Electoral Count Act reform "in the coming weeks," according to a statement from Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

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