A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday agreed to proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act, a post-Civil War law to certify presidential elections, following the January 6 attack on the Capitol and Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 came under intense scrutiny. Election.
Long in the making, the package offered by the group, led by Sans Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is made up of two separate proposals. The manner in which the electors are presented can be clarified by the states and the vice presidents count the votes in Congress. The second would strengthen protections for state and local election officials who have faced violence and harassment.
“From the beginning, our bipartisan group has shared a vision of drafting legislation to correct the loopholes in the archaic and vague Electoral Counting Act of 1887,” Collins, Manchin and 14 other senators said in a joint statement.
“We have developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of authenticating and counting electoral votes,” the group wrote. “We urge our allies on both sides to support these simple, common-sense reforms.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have both indicated support for the bipartisan group, but the final legislative package will be scrutinized carefully.
Votes are unlikely before they fall. But with widespread support from a group of 16 senators—seven Democrats and nine Republicans who have worked behind closed doors for months with the help of outside experts—seriously considered.
In a statement, Matthew Weil, executive director of the Democracy Program at the Center for Bipartisan Policy, called the framework a “significant step” to address ambiguities in the Electoral Counting Act.
After Trump lost the 2020 election, the defeated president made an unprecedented effort to challenge voters sent from the battlefield to a joint session of Congress on January 6, when the vice president presides over the certification.
Under the proposed changes, the law will be updated to ensure that each state’s governor is responsible for initially submitting to voters, as a way of protecting against states sending out alternative or fake voter slates.
Additionally, the law would stipulate that the Vice President presides over the joint session in a “sole ministerial” capacity, according to the summary page. It states that the Vice President has “no power to determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate disputes wholly upon the electorate.”
The provision is a direct response to Trump’s pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject voters sent from some battleground states as a way to prevent authentication or keep Joe Biden from winning. is for.
The bill also specifies the procedures surrounding the transition of the president, including ensuring the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another, if election results are disputed.
The way Trump blocked Biden’s team from accessing some of the information for his transition to the White House is another push.
The second proposal, revolving around election protections, would double federal penalties to up to two years in prison for persons “intimidating or intimidating” election officials, poll watchers, voters or candidates, according to the summary. .
It will seek to improve the way the US Postal Service handles election mail and “provide guidance for states to improve their mail-in ballot processes.” The role of mail-in ballots and the postal service was heavily scrutinized during the 2020 election.
An Associated Press review of possible cases of voter fraud in six battleground states found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election. A separate Associated Press review of drop boxes used for postal ballots also found no significant problems.
The need for election worker protection was front and center in a separate hearing Wednesday of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Election officials and experts testified that an increase in threats of physical violence is contributing to nationwide staff shortages and the loss of experience in local elections.
“The impact is widespread,” said Neil Kelly, a former registrar of voters in Orange County, Calif., who now chairs the committee for safe and secure elections. “And, while the effects on individuals are devastating, the potential blow to democracy should not be ruled out.”
Elizabeth Howard, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told the committee that Congress needed more funding and support to protect the personal safety of election workers, including funding local and federal training programs and providing grants to increase the protection of election directors. Is. private residence.
Democratic New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who recently reported a series of threats, told the panel that the situation has worsened following attacks against former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election result.
“Unfortunately, we are still living, on a daily basis – in our state and across the country – with the resonant effects of the ‘Big Lie’ from 2020,” she said. “And, as we all know, when it comes to leadership, what you say to the highest levels of government power in this country has those resonant effects.”
Some Republican members of the committee denounced violence against election workers – and also drew parallels to recent threats and intimidation directed at some Supreme Court justices following their decision to overturn constitutional protections for abortion.
GOP Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana dismissed the notion that Trump and other election skeptics were solely responsible for the “environment of mistrust” that grew around the 2020 election.