Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) leave the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday, August 9, 2021 as the Senate works on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators met via Zoom on Monday to discuss potential changes to an archaic election law.

The call, which included 15 lawmakers and lasted for just over an hour, largely focused on the Electoral Count Act, which lays out how the Electoral College results are counted, but the group “touched briefly on many other topics,” a person familiar with the discussion confirmed to The Hill. 

The call, convened by GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), comes after a staff-level meeting took place last week and senators have talked among themselves about potential changes to the 1887 law in the wake of the 2020 election, which former President Trump has falsely claimed was stolen. 

GOP Sens. Collins, Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Todd Young (Ind.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) took part in Monday’s call. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Mark Warner (Va.), Chris Coons (Del.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Ben Cardin (Md.) were on the call as well. 

The group’s discussions are still in the early stages as they exchange ideas of what they would each like to see, or not see, in a potential bill. But the number of senators involved in the talks has grown since Collins convened another call earlier this month

The senators are eying changes to the Electoral Count Act, including clarifying that the vice president’s role is ceremonial and increasing the number of lawmakers that must sign onto an objection challenging a state’s Electoral College slate before the House and Senate are forced to vote on that challenge.  

“I’m very encouraged by the fact that so many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle have indicated an interest in making sure that votes are properly counted and certified, and that means overhauling the 1887 Electoral Count Act, it means looking at additional protections against violence and threats for poll workers and election officials,” Collins told reporters last week, as she gaggled with Manchin in the Senate basement.  

Then-President Trump led a public and private pressure campaign to try to get his vice president, Mike Pence, to unilaterally dismiss the Electoral College results from key battleground states as part of his role overseeing Congress’s counting of the election results on Jan. 6, 2021. Pence refused, saying the Constitution tied his hands. 

GOP lawmakers were able to force votes to try to challenge the results from Arizona and Pennsylvania last year. Both of those efforts fell short, but it was the third time challenges to the Electoral College results have been voted on since 1887. Congress’s counting of the Electoral College results was delayed for hours on Jan. 6, 2021 because a pro-Trump mob breached the building, forcing lawmakers to be evacuated from the House and Senate chambers. 

Currently only one member of the House and one member of the Senate must sign onto an objection to a state’s Electoral College slate to force a vote on the challenge in both chambers. Multiple members of the Senate group have said the threshold should be higher. House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has proposed changing it to require one-third of both chambers to sign onto an objection.  

“It has clearly become weaponized. We clearly have to make it clear that the vice president is in a ministerial position, and there should be a higher bar for lodging an objection,” Tillis said from the floor last week about the Electoral Count Act. 

In addition to changes to the act, the group is weighing making it a federal crime to threaten election officials or poll workers and providing election grants to states. 

Manchin, before the Senate’s current one-week break, said that the senators “just think it’s such a needed thing to secure our elections” and wanted to ensure that election and poll worker intimidation would be “dealt with in the harshest penalties, we’re not going to fool with our count.” 

Making changes to the 1887 law has growing momentum around Washington, D.C. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has blessed the bipartisan negotiations and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is keeping the door open to revisions.

President Biden also pointed to it as one potential area of agreement after a sweeping Democrat-written election bill hit a wall in the Senate last week.  

In addition to the bipartisan group, Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are working on a separate effort to make changes to the Electoral Count Act.  

Tags Amy Klobuchar Angus King Ben Cardin Ben Sasse Chris Coons Chris Murphy Dick Durbin Donald Trump Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kevin McCarthy Kyrsten Sinema Lisa Murkowski Mark Warner Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Rob Portman Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins Thom Tillis Todd Young Zoe Lofgren

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