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The bipartisan reform of the Electoral Count Act is no coincidence

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Senate Rules Committee, left, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the ranking member, open a meeting on the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. The bill is a response to the Jan. 6 insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to find a way around the Electoral Count Act, the 19th-century law that, along with the Constitution, governs how states and Congress certify electors and declare presidential election winners. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As former chairs of the Democratic and Republican National Committees and longtime campaigners for opposing candidates, we’ve disagreed on many issues. But it never occurred to us that any American running for a major office would disagree with the foundational belief underpinning all democracies: Elected officials should be elected by voters.

We were proven wrong two years ago. Unlike all previous presidents and presidential candidates, then-President Donald Trump believed he had the power to effectively declare himself the election winner, regardless of what voters wanted.

Thankfully, the spending bill passed Thursday by the Senate and expected to win House approval and be signed into law by President Joe Biden contains a measure to stop any president from trying to overturn our democracy in the same way Trump did. We wholeheartedly support the reform measure hammered out by Republican and Democratic senators because it is vital to make it harder for Trump’s 2020 maneuver to succeed in 2024 and in future elections.

How did we get to this point?

As he stated publicly in remarks and tweets after the 2020 election, Trump contended that then-Vice President Mike Pence could reject Electoral College votes cast for Democratic candidates Biden and Kamala Harris and overturn their election victory.

Trump falsely claimed he won the 2020 presidential race “in a landslide” but said he was deprived of victory by a vast conspiracy of Republican and Democratic state and local election officials around the nation. This absurd and baseless claim was rejected by more than 60 courts and by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. 

To stay in power, Trump and his allies argued that an obscure law enacted in 1887 called the Electoral Count Act gave Pence the power to use his ceremonial role of counting electoral votes certified by states to reject some of the Biden-Harris votes.

Trump claimed that Pence could count the votes of alternative electors (who were really fake electors) pledged to the Trump-Pence ticket instead, or send slates of electors Pence objected to back to state legislatures so they could decide which electors could cast ballots.

To his great credit, Pence correctly rejected Trump’s assertions about the 1887 law. Explaining his position in a speech last February, Pence said: “President Trump is wrong: I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, contained within the spending bill passed by the Senate, addresses every major issue with the Electoral Count Act that we saw in the last election, and it is a strong bipartisan bill. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which advanced the bill by a 14-1 vote in September — said this week, “the Electoral Count process was never meant to be a trigger point for an insurrection and that is why we are reforming it.”

The reform measure makes clear that the vice president merely presides over the counting of electoral votes at a joint session of Congress and does not have the power to singlehandedly pick the next president and vice president. 

The measure also makes it much harder for members of the House and Senate to challenge the acceptance of the votes of a state’s electors, requiring that only challenges supported by at least one-fifth of the members of each chamber can be considered. Under the 1887 law, a challenge can be mounted by just one House member and one senator.

The reform legislation also ensures that states follow the rules to choose their electors that were in place before the election and provides expedited court review if a rogue governor refuses to certify the correct electors.

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) support the reform legislation

“Congress’s process for counting their presidential electors’ votes was written 135 years ago,” McConnell said. “The chaos that came to a head on Jan. 6 of last year certainly underscored the need for an update.”

While Trump is a Republican, a future Democratic president could just as easily try to overturn an election loss using the current version of the Electoral Count Act. So there is nothing about the reform legislation that favors or disadvantages one party over another.

In his Gettysburg Address, delivered at the site of a horrific Civil War battle in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln pledged that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Reforming the Electoral Count Act to ensure that the American people continue to have the right to elect our leaders keeps faith with President Lincoln’s pledge and with the Constitution that created our democracy. 

Donna Brazile is a political strategist, a contributor to ABC News and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is the author of “Hacks: Inside the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” Michael Steele is the former Republican National Committee chairman and former lieutenant governor of Maryland. He is currently a senior advisor to The Lincoln Project, a political analyst for MSNBC, and the host of The Michael Steele Podcast.”

Tags 2020 election Amy Klobuchar Chuck Schumer Donald Trump election reform Electoral Count Act Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act Joe Biden Kamala Harris Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Politics of the United States the big lie

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