Collins, Manchin offer bipartisan bill making changes to Electoral College
A group of bipartisan senators led by Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have unveiled legislation clarifying that the vice president does not have the power to overturn the results of a presidential election and making it harder for lawmakers to object to the results of the Electoral College vote.
The introduction of legislation follows months of negotiations in which senators sought to respond to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when a mob of pro-Trump protesters tried to stop Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
It reforms the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which many senators thought was too vague and which former President Trump tried to exploit to stop Biden’s transition to power.
The bill would make it explicitly clear that a sitting vice president only has a “ministerial” role when Congress convenes to certify the results of a presidential election and has no authority to overturn the results.
The legislation would require at least one-fifth of the membership of each chamber of Congress to lodge an objection to any state’s slate of electors.
And it would identify state governors as responsible for submitting certificates identifying slates of electors unless state law specifies otherwise.
The legislation directly responds to Trump’s claims that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to not recognize Biden’s victory in the Electoral College after winning the 2020 election by more than 7 million votes.
The senators who negotiated the proposal said they consulted with a wide variety of election experts and legal experts.
“We have developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for president and vice president. We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, commonsense reforms,” they said in a joint statement.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) participated in the negotiations and are expected to vote for the measure.
Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) says she will hold a hearing on the bill in the next several weeks.
“We must update the antiquated Electoral Count Act to ensure that electoral votes for president accurately reflect the election results in each state and to improve the process for counting electoral votes in Congress,” she said.
Klobuchar, however, said Congress still needs to pass separate legislation to protect access to the ballot, especially among lower-income and minority voters.
Collins said she expects the Rules Committee to review the legislation in early August.
“I’m encouraged having spoken to both the chair and ranking member of the Rules Committee, Sens. Klobuchar and [Roy] Blunt [R-Mo.], that they intend to move to a quick hearing in early August on the bill,” she said. “Our goal is to get it signed into law before the end of the year.”
The legislation provides for expedited judicial review of disputes over a state’s slate of electors, authorizing a three-judge panel to resolve challenges and setting up a fast-track process for the Supreme Court to hear appeals.
The accelerated judicial review would be available only to presidential candidates.
The legislation clarifies that Congress would have to defer to the slates of electors submitted by state officials.
It would make clear that the vice president does not have the power to solely determine or adjudicate disputes over electors.
Sasse praised the legislation as “a good bill” and highlighted provisions “clarifying the vice president’s limited role and increasing the threshold for objections.”
“This bill cleans up some ambiguity in the ECA that was dishonestly exploited on Jan. 6,” he said.
Updated 2:54 p.m.