Donald Trump’s constant, baseless assertions about the 2020 presidential election have reignited calls in Congress — from both parties — to amend the Electoral Count Act to assure that no subsequent presidential election can be thrown out.
On Jan. 6, 2021, lawmakers are working feverishly to revise a 135-year-old statute that was enacted in the wake of the Civil War and came dangerously close to unraveling. At the time, the lost president encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” over the election, and Vice President Mike Pence was pressed to abandon his ceremonial position as the session’s presiding officer and reject the results.
While Pence defied Trump’s requests that day, Trump continues to claim that Pence “could have reversed the election” – a worrying trend as the former president explores a bid for the White House.
“President Trump’s statements underlined the need for us to update the Electoral Count Act,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters at the Capitol. “They showed the uncertainty in the statute and the reality that it is vague.”
The result of the bipartisan effort in Congress is still uncertain, particularly since Republicans are hesitant of going against Trump and Democrats desire larger reforms after their own comprehensive elections and voting legislation collapsed last month. Any change to the 19th-century statute would almost certainly face the filibuster’s 60-vote barrier in the Senate, requiring bipartisan backing in the equally divided body.
Nonetheless, with Trump moving closer to a second presidential run, the attempt to amend the Electoral Count Act is gathering political traction. The sense of urgency has grown over the last year, as the former president and his friends have drummed up support in state legislatures, attempting to place friendly leaders in local electoral offices and, in some instances, endorsing political candidates who took part in the Capitol riot.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said Tuesday that he is open to the endeavor, but he rejected Trump’s suggestion at a weekend rally to pardon anyone who has been charged criminally in the tragic violence at the Capitol.
“What we witnessed here on the 6th of January was an attempt to obstruct a peaceful transition of power from one administration to another,” McConnell stated.
The Electoral Count Act, according to the Kentucky Republican, “is defective and needs to be changed.” “I would not be in favor of lowering any of the penalties for any of the guys who pled guilty,” he added of those prosecuted criminally in the unrest.
Collins, a rare and frequent Republican Trump opponent, is leading a bipartisan committee that has been meeting behind closed doors and intends to offer a draught as soon as this week.
Senators are considering revisions to the Electoral Count Act that would make it more difficult to contest election results. They’re also thinking about how to safeguard poll workers, who are being harassed at alarmingly high rates around the country, as well as funds for election support and voting equipment. 16 senators, both Republicans, and Democrats, are working quickly, with the agreement of party leaders, to construct the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan put into law by President Joe Biden last year.
“This does generate a sense of urgency to get this done,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told The Associated Press after Trump used the term “overturn” in discussing his intention to dispute the election.
While many Democrats, including Kaine, believe that changing the Electoral Count Act is not a replacement for their own failed voting rights bill, it does provide a chance for a legislative victory, if not the start of additional conversations.
“It’s a wonderful thing to reform the Electoral College, but it doesn’t negate the need to address voting rights, dark money, and reapportionment,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Civil rights and voting rights advocates are urging Democrats to broaden their scope and include some elements of their failed voting legislation, such as the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act, which would restore the Justice Department’s role in overseeing elections in states where voting laws have been broken repeatedly.
When Trump presided over the joint session of Congress this past weekend, he delivered possibly his most direct acknowledgment that he wants Pence to reverse the election results.
Republicans who criticized the Democrats’ Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act as being too broad find merit in bolstering the more specific Electoral Count Act mechanism to prevent Trump or anybody else from challenging it.
“I don’t agree that Vice President Pence has that power,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, “but if that’s an argument that some people find persuasive, then I believe it’s fair for Congress to clarify the law.”
The bipartisan group isn’t working in isolation.
For years, democracy advocates have cautioned that the Electoral Count Act, which was enacted after a disputed 1876 election that resulted in the departure of soldiers stationed in the South to enforce anti-slavery laws, needed to be updated.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chairwoman of the Rules Committee, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, released their draught plan on Tuesday and discussed it with the bipartisan group led by Collins. Their suggestion includes emphasizing that the vice president has “no responsibility” in counting the votes and transferring the ceremonial job of presiding over the tally from the vice president to a senior senator.
King expressed his hope that the two organizations’ efforts may be combined. “It emphasizes why we have to get this done,” Trump said of Trump’s remark.