There is serious interest
from both Democrats and Republicans in updating the 19th century law that details how Congress counts Electoral College votes from each state and talks are gaining momentum, but the effort is still in its early stages and drafting legislation and finalizing a bill will take weeks if not months, according to people involved in the effort.
“We are at the beginning stages,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said of the effort to reform the law.
The challenges facing lawmakers underscore how even an election reform proposal with bipartisan support faces a long way to go after Democratic-led efforts to enact far more sweeping voting legislation failed repeatedly in the Senate. Adding urgency to the election reform push, former President Donald Trump continues to spread lies about the 2020 election in a preview of the kind of message he could make the centerpiece of a future campaign if he decides to run again.
Entering a meeting Monday evening on reforming the Electoral Count Act, Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said she thought Trump’s comments over the weekend “underscore the need for us to revise” the law.
Trump in a statement on Sunday said
he wanted then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump falsely claimed that the bipartisan group of lawmakers working to reform the Electoral Count Act proves his claim that Pence had the power, according to the ECA, to overturn the 2020 election. Though the act is vague, it is clear the role of the vice president is ceremonial and does not include the power to overturn the result of a presidential election.
“To me, President Trump’s comments underscore the need for us to revise the Electoral Count Act because they demonstrated the confusion in the law and the fact that it is ambiguous,” Collins said.
But Collins noted that talks are still in the “early stages,” though they are getting more into the “nitty gritty” and have divided up into subgroups now to do a “deep dive” on different aspects.
GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told CNN when asked about Trump’s comments, “we need to clarify how the Electoral Count Act works.”
“Part of the problem is there’s so much ambiguity and confusion about it. If you’ve looked at the statute, it’s long and complicated,” Portman said, noting, “I think we’ll get something done.”
Leaving the meeting on Monday night, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told CNN they’re moving “aggressively” to draft reforms, but did not give an exact timeline.
In addition to the challenge of securing bipartisan agreement, Congress faces a busy schedule ahead with a wide array of other high-profile issues competing for attention. Lawmakers must soon confront a rapidly approaching deadline to fund the government on February 18 and an upcoming Supreme Court nomination to vet and process in the wake of Justice Stephen Breyer’s planned retirement, among other priorities.
Collins said that “one of the issues that many of our members, including myself, are interested in is making sure that we have federal penalties for interfering with or threatening an election official or poll worker with violence.”
According to Collins, the group is also examining the Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan federal group that controls the Help America Vote Act grants.
Collins said the Commission needs to be reauthorized and the group also needs to determine if there should be additional HAVA grants and if there should be more allowable uses.
Moreover, there’s another Democratic group — made up of Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois — that has already floated an outline of its proposal. But this group now plans to talk with the bipartisan group to merge their ideas.
The leaders of the Rules Committee — Klobuchar and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri — also plan to talk with the group.
The multiple efforts and acknowledgment by those involved of the bipartisan effort still being in its early stages underscore that while there is a lot of discussion, it will take time — likely longer than February — to finalize a deal, and even longer to bring a bill to the floor.
King, Klobuchar and Durbin on Tuesday released a discussion draft of their proposal to update the Electoral Count Act.
According to a summary of the proposal, the measure would, among a number of provisions, “clarify” that the vice president does not have the authority to reject a state’s electors. It would establish “specific and narrow grounds” for objections to electoral votes or electors.
And it would “raise the thresholds for Congress to consider objections” while also making it more difficult for objections to be sustained without widespread support by both chambers.