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Americans support the Collins and Manchin election reform legislation

The bipartisan legislation announced last month by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.), along with another eight Republicans and six Democrats, is a crucial step toward increasing trust in elections. The lack of faith in our election outcomes being voiced on both the left and right poses a serious threat to American self-government. Confidence that our representatives have been chosen by the voice of the people, as provided by our Constitution and laws, is the bedrock of the most successful republic in history.

Still, the path to passing the elections legislation in 2022 is fraught. Many believe the partisan divide in Congress is too great to be bridged, particularly with midterm elections in November and a busy congressional calendar.

A unique poll suggests surprising bipartisan consensus that Congress overcome the challenges to pass the proposed legislation. This poll is different than most because before answering, the more than 3,000 participants spent an hour or more reviewing a brief on election reforms that makes the strongest case for and against measures included in the bipartisan legislation. The participants are members of the CommonSense American program at the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD). They come from every state. About one quarter are Republicans, one quarter Democrats, and 45 percent independents.

The drafting of the brief our members reviewed itself defied the idea that bipartisan legislation is unrealistic. We consulted with a cross-partisan group of more than 30 leading elections experts to ensure that the brief was accurate and fairly represented competing perspectives. We were struck by how many proposals readily attract bipartisan expert support.

The bipartisan agreement among experts and everyday Americans is perhaps most striking for updates to the Electoral Count Act (ECA) at the center of bipartisan package. The ECA directs how and when states certify and send the results of the presidential election to Congress. It also establishes how Congress counts the electoral votes and resolves disputes. Passed by Congress in 1887, the ECA’s tortured, archaic language is challenging to interpret and apply to current circumstances. The attempts by both parties to manipulate its imperfections have been rising over the last 20 years. Beginning with the 2000 presidential election, congressional Democrats have exploited the ECA to object to the last three Republican presidential wins. President Trump and some of his Republican allies then escalated ECA exploitation dramatically in 2020.

The intensifying attempts to challenge the results of presidential elections have convinced many Republican and Democratic members of Congress, scholars, and election experts that the law governing the counting of electoral votes must be updated. The threat also convinces everyday Americans. For example, an overwhelming 90 percent of CommonSense American members who reviewed the brief support making the existing language even more explicit that the vice president’s responsibilities are ceremonial with no authority to reject or delay the counting of a state’s electoral votes.

Equally remarkable, we find that both parties dramatically underestimate the other party’s support. Democratic members of CommonSense American think only 41 percent of Republican members support clarifying the vice president’s role. In fact, at 81 percent the level of actual Republican support is nearly twice what Democrats think. Similarly, Republican members think that 67 percent of Democratic members support it, when 98 percent actually do.

There is also strong cross-partisan support among experts and everyday Americans for the other proposed ECA reforms. For example, our members agreed with experts on each of the following:

  • 80 percent support clarifying existing ECA language that Congress must honor courts’ rulings in ECA disputes.
  • 80 percent support clarifying that a state legislature must abide by the election laws it had in place on Election Day unless there has been a major natural disaster or similarly catastrophic event.
  • 75 percent support raising the threshold for objections from one senator and one representative to one-quarter of each chamber.

As with the bipartisan Senate group and elections experts, the bipartisan support does not stop with ECA updates. For example, our poll finds:

  • 81 percent support for enhancing the federal criminal penalties for threatening election workers.
  • 68 percent support sharing full transition resources with both candidates if there is a delay determining the winner of the presidential contest.

As challenging as bipartisan action is in our bitterly partisan times with hotly contested midterm elections fast approaching, few issues attract greater bipartisan support than commonsense election reforms. As crowded as the congressional calendar is, no issue is more fundamental than increasing trust in elections. With the stakes so high and the support so broad, Congress should act and act now to build confidence in the elections that define ours as a system by, for, and of the people.

Keith Allred is the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) and a former professor of negotiation and conflict resolution at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Tags Donald Trump Electoral Count Act Joe Manchin

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