A violent mob invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, spurred on by false claims of a stolen election. The invaders were incensed that Vice President Mike Pence refused to exploit ambiguities in the process of certifying Electoral College results — flaws in the law that could have plunged America into chaos.
A group of senators led by Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have taken the first step in what must continue to be a bipartisan quest to protect the will of the voter. They introduced the Electoral Count Reform Act to help prevent future schemes to defraud democracy.
Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to remain in office were successfully thwarted after the 2020 election, but there is no guarantee that he — or one of his followers — would not try again. If anything, the possibility is growing as his acolytes continue to vie for positions of power, including overseeing elections.
The proposed legislation, which as of Aug. 6 has gathered enough GOP support to bypass a filibuster, would clarify aspects of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, removing the vagueness that Trump and his cohorts tried to exploit.
The bill would affirm that the vice president’s role in the electoral count is only ministerial and make it harder for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors. Currently, all it takes is one member in the House and one in the Senate for an objection to proceed, a requirement that would increase to at least one-fifth of the members in each chamber, under the proposal.
Additionally, the bill intends to thwart attempts by rogue state legislatures to submit different electors by giving governors conclusive authority to certify their state’s electoral slate. However, it also allows for candidates to petition for judicial review in cases of legitimate controversy.
The Senate should pay attention to election experts who have pointed out the bill’s flaws and should consider increasing the period for judicial review. Also, important is implementing enhanced safeguards against the unfortunately plausible scenario of election-denying governors and state legislative majorities.
Fixing the Electoral Count Act is a critical component of ensuring election integrity, but it is far from the final word. As pointed out by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute, the law applies only to presidential races and doesn’t address broader national threats, including intimidation of election workers and efforts to manipulate the vote counting process.
The Senate should pass legislation such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act protections that were gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court, including prohibiting race-based discrimination in voting. Republican leadership blocked debate on the bill last year, with only Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voting to advance discussion.
Congress is on the right track with the Electoral Count Reform Act, but the bipartisan momentum must reach further if the U.S. is to ensure that the events of Jan. 6 weren’t a dress rehearsal.