Senate Democrats unveil proposal to reform Electoral Count Act
A group of Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would reform an 1887 election law that has been in the spotlight in the wake of the 2020 election.
The proposal — from Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — would clarify that the vice president’s role overseeing the formal counting of the Electoral College vote is ceremonial.
The proposal comes after then-President Trump tried to get his vice president, Mike Pence, to throw out results from battleground states that he lost in the 2020 election.
It also increases the number of lawmakers in the House and Senate that need to support an objection before both chambers must vote on it. Currently, it just takes one member from the House and Senate; the legislation would increase it to one-third of both chambers. It also increases the threshold for upholding the objection from a simple majority in both chambers to three-fifths in both chambers.
“As leaders on the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections and members of Senate Democratic leadership, we have been working with legal experts and election law scholars to develop legislation that would modernize the framework of the Electoral Count Act of 1887,” the three senators said in a joint statement.
The legislation isn’t finalized, and the senators labeled it a “discussion draft.” But they added that they thought the proposal “serves as a foundational outline for key reforms that address the shortcomings of the 1887 law.”
The Democratic proposal would also narrow the reasons Congress can object to a state’s electoral votes during the formal counting. And it would try to strengthen against the possibility of “fake electors,” something that has flared up in the aftermath of the 2020 election, and set a deadline of Dec. 20 for states to resolve post-election disputes and make a final determination of the appointment of electors.
The bill from King, Klobuchar and Durbin comes as a separate, bipartisan group led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are working on their own proposal to reform the Electoral Count Act. That group, which includes 16 senators, met on Monday night with the goal of reconvening as soon as Friday to determine how much progress they’ve made.
Some of the areas the two groups are working on overlap: The Manchin-Collins group wants to clarify that the vice president’s role is ceremonial and increase the number of lawmakers that need to sign onto an objection in order to force a vote.
The bipartisan group members say they are fairly early in their talks, but they’ve divided their work into five sub-groups: reforming the 1887 Electoral Count Act; protecting election workers; voting practices and rights; the election assistance commission; and presidential transitions.
King, Durbin and Klobuchar have largely been working separately from the Collins-Manchin group, though there have been some individual conversations between the two groups.
Collins said she has spoken with Klobuchar and Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the Rules Committee, and senators expect that if they can come up with a bill it would be taken up by the committee.
“My expectation is that if we are successful in attaining our goal … the bill that’s introduced would probably be referred to the Rules Committee, and they can do the normal hearing and markup process,” she said.
Klobuchar, King and Durbin added in their joint statement that they “stand ready to share the knowledge we have accumulated with our colleagues from both parties, and look forward to contributing to a strong, bipartisan effort aimed at resolving this issue and strengthening our democracy.”