WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators proposed new legislation on Wednesday to modernize the 135-year-old Electoral College Act, working to overhaul a law President Donald J. Trump has attempted abuse on January 6, 2021, to interfere with Congress’ certification of his election defeat.
The act is intended to ensure a peaceful transition from one president to the next, after the attack on the Capitol on January 6 exposed how existing law could be manipulated. to interrupt the process. One measure would make it more difficult for lawmakers to challenge state electoral votes when Congress meets to count votes. It will also make clear that the vice president has no discretion over the outcome and it will set out steps to begin the presidential transition.
The second measure would increase penalties for intimidation and intimidation of election officials, seek to improve the Postal Service’s handling of mailed ballots, and extend an additional five years a An independent federal agency that helps the states administer and secure federal elections.
Although the passage of the law cannot guarantee that a repeat of January 6 will not happen in the future, its authors believe that rewriting the ancient law, especially provisions related to the role of the vice president, could thwart those efforts and make it more difficult to disrupt the counting of votes.
Alarmed by events on January 6 that revealed long-standing flaws in the law governing the vote counting process, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine , and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, met for months to try to agree on a rewrite.
“In four of the last six presidential elections, this process has been abused, with members of both parties making frivolous objections to electoral votes,” Collins said. on Wednesday. “But it wasn’t until the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, that really shed light on the urgent need for reform.”
In a joint statement, the 16 senators involved in the negotiations said they had set out to “correct the flaws” of the Voter Count Act, which they called “outdated and ambiguous.” .” The statement said the group believes that, in consultation with electoral law experts, it has “developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for the electoral college vote counting and confirmation system for the president and vice president.” system.”
Although the authors lack one of the 10 Republican senators needed to ensure that the ballot-counting bill can pass a round of negligence and be passed in the end if all Democrats backing it, they said they hope to garner enough support for a vote later this year.
Ms. Collins said she expected the Senate Rules Committee to convene a hearing on the measures before recess in August. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota and chair of the panel, was consulted during the drafting of the legislation.
The bills were published on the eve of a timely hearing by a House committee investigating the events surrounding the January 6 attacks, including Mr. Trump’s repeated attempts to neutralize his failure. They also come as an intensifying investigation into efforts by Mr Trump and his allies to reverse Georgia’s presidential election results. A Georgia judge ordered Rudolph W. Giuliani, who led the effort to overturn the election results on Mr. Trump’s behalf, appear before a special grand jury in Atlanta next month.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearing
The legislative effort in the Senate began shortly after the January 6 attacks, which took place when Congress met to count votes according to the traditional practice, which was the final official confirmation of the presidential election results. before the inauguration. Before the riots, Mr. Trump tried unsuccessfully to convince Vice President Mike Pence – who presided over the session as Senate president – to unilaterally block the vote count, citing claims of fraud. vote.
The new law focuses on handling electoral college ballots and doesn’t incorporate the broader voting protections sought by Democrats after several states enacted new legislation deemed more difficult. for the people to vote after the Democratic victory in 2020. Republicans in the Senate before blocked those voting measures.
While there may be disagreement on specific terms, it is widely held in Congress that some steps need to be taken to strengthen the Voter Count Act, which Manchin said on Thursday. Tu was “weaponized” on January 6.
Proponents of the bill are optimistic they can win passage this year, seeing that timeframe as their best chance given the prospect that Republicans, many of whom support challenges to Electoral College votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr., could control the next House of Representatives. five.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and minority leader, told reporters Tuesday: “The Voter Count Act needs to be revised. He said Mrs Collins had intrigued him with the bipartisan negotiations and that he was “sympathetic” to the goals of those working on the law.
Under the proposed overhaul of vote counting, the state governor would be identified as the sole official responsible for submitting the state’s group of electors after the presidential vote, barring other officials from doing so. That provision is intended to promote efforts similar to those employed by Mr. Trump and his supporters, who have sought to come up with their own groups of electors are not recognized by the states and do not reflect the popular vote.
In an effort to thwart unfounded attempts to challenge the state’s electorate, a minimum of one-fifth of both the House and Senate is required to raise objections – a significant increase from the current threshold. of a member of the House of Representatives and a senator. . The objection would still have to be supported by a majority of both the House and Senate.
The measure would also create a new fast track for a candidate to challenge the state’s pool of electors. Under the proposal, those claims would be heard by a special three-judge panel with direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
After a stalemate during the presidential transition in 2020, when Trump administration officials initially refused To provide Mr. Biden with funding and office space to begin preparing to assume power, the law would allow more than one candidate to receive transitional resources if the outcome remains contested.
And after Mr. Trump and his allies push for Mr. Pence to manipulate the vote in Mr. Trump’s favor, the law will stipulate that the vice-president’s role is primarily ceremonial and that “he or she is not have any power. solely to determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate voter disputes,” according to the summary of the measure.
“I think it’s important to make sure that the details surrounding January 6, about any kind of question about the vice president’s role, are cleared up,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. , one of the Democrats behind. law.
In addition to Ms. Collins, other Republican members of the bipartisan group supporting the voter overhaul are Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of West Virginia. Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana.
In addition to Mr. Manchin and Mr. Warner, Democrats include Senators Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.