WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the United States Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Tuesday passed legislation that would update an 1887 elections law and clarify how electoral votes are certified, with the hopes of averting another attempt to overturn a presidential election.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, put forth the bill, known as the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act. The aim of the legislation is to deter another Jan. 6 insurrection, in which former President Donald Trump tried to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election by citing the 19th-century law.
“On that day, enemies of our democracy sought to use this antiquated law to thwart the results of a free and fair election,” Klobuchar said in her opening remarks.
The bill passed on a nearly unanimous vote, 14-1. The only senator present to vote against it was Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.
Cruz called it a “bad bill” and questioned why Republicans would support it.
“This bill is all about Donald J. Trump,” Cruz said.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York were not present but voted yes by proxy.
The U.S. House passed its version of the bill earlier in September, 229-203, with nine Republicans joining Democrats. Virginia’s House delegation split on party lines, with all Democrats voting for the measure and all Republicans voting against it.
Trump and Pence
Blunt said there was broad support on both sides of the aisle to update the act after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in which Trump pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. The vice president’s role in the certification of electoral votes isn’t exactly clear in the Electoral Count Act.
“We found out last year it’s outdated and needed reform,” Blunt said.
Klobuchar, who leads the committee, said it took months of bipartisan effort from the committee and other Senate colleagues to put the bill together.
Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said the committee did not try to “reinvent the wheel” but took a very careful approach to update the law.
“We did spend a lot of time trying to get it right,” Warner said.
He added that he wanted the committee to also consider protecting elections from future cyberattacks.
The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.
Sens. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, worked to gather the support of 11 Republican and 11 Democratic senators to cosponsor the measure, meeting the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the legislation past a filibuster.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said he “proudly supports” the overhaul of the Electoral Count Act.
“I strongly support the modest changes that our colleagues in the working group have fleshed out after months of detailed discussions,” McConnell said.
The timing on final passage of the bill is still unclear, though it could come up during the lame-duck session of Congress expected after the election.
“We’ll move into next year with this done,” Blunt said.
Schumer has not announced when he will bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
“Make no mistake,” Schumer said in a statement. “(A)s our country continues to face the threat of the anti-democracy MAGA Republican movement — propelled by many GOP leaders who either refused to take a stand or actively stoked the flames of division in our country — reforming the Electoral Count Act ought to be the bare minimum of action the Congress takes.”
The Senate bill has two provisions, the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act.
The Electoral Count Reform Act states that the vice president’s role in presiding over Congress when certifying electors is ceremonial and that the vice president does not have the power to object, accept or adjudicate disputes over electors.
Most notably, it also raises the threshold for lawmakers to make an objection to electors. Under current law, only one U.S. House representative and one U.S. senator need to make an objection to an elector or slate of electors. Under the new law, that would be raised to one-fifth of members from both chambers to lodge an objection.
The act also adds several reforms for electors from each state. It identifies each state’s governor as the official responsible for submitting the state’s official document that identifies the state’s appointed electors and says that Congress cannot accept that document from any official besides the governor.
“This reform would address the potential for multiple state officials to send Congress competing slates,” according to the bill’s summary.
This reform was included because Trump and his campaign tried to replace legitimate slates of electors in several states with fake electors who would cast ballots for Trump, an effort detailed by the Jan. 6 committee that is investigating the attack on the Capitol.
The act also provides an expedited judicial review of any challenges made and removes a provision in the law “that could be used by state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states by declaring a ‘failed election’ — a term that is not defined in the law,” according to the bill’s summary. The bill reforms this by stating a state can move its presidential election day to the following first Monday in November every four years only if needed due to “extraordinary and catastrophic” events.
The Presidential Transition Improvement Act provides “guidelines for when eligible candidates for President and Vice President may receive federal resources to support their transition into office,” according to the bill’s summary.
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