National Security

Jan. 6 panel members offer long-awaited elections reform bill

Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), two members of the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, introduced a bill on Monday to reform the Electoral College Act, offering a number of provisions to protect elections from interference by state and federal lawmakers.

The Presidential Election Reform Act would make clear that the role of the vice president in presiding over the counting of electoral votes is purely “ministerial.”

It also takes aim at potential action from the lawmakers’ colleagues to object to states’ electoral slates, requiring that a third of the members from both chambers must object to the certification, up from just one member for each chamber, while narrowing the grounds under which they can bring such an objection.

“If members of Congress have any right to object to electoral slates, the grounds for such objections should be narrow. Congress doesn’t sit as a court of last resort, capable of overruling state and federal judges to alter the electoral outcome,” the duo wrote in a Sunday night op-ed previewing the bill.

The bill also directly prohibits the fake elector scheme employed by the Trump campaign, which both submitted faux election certificates and pressured Republicans in various states to replace their electors with those who would vote for then-President Trump.

The legislation requires “a single, accurate certificate from each state,” according to a one-pager on the bill, and allows candidates to seek a court order if a state governor fails to transmit the electoral certificate. It also increases the penalty for neglecting that duty from $1,000 to $25,000.

The House Rules Committee is set to consider the Presidential Election Reform Act on Tuesday, clearing the way for the bill to make it to the House floor as soon as Wednesday.

The legislation comes amid progress on a similar Senate package introduced in July, with two House lawmakers introducing companion legislation last week.

The Cheney-Lofgren bill departs from the Senate’s Electoral Count Act in several ways, including by requiring a higher bar to object to elections — the Senate proposal requires one-fifth backing in each chamber to do so.

But the House bill also eyes other areas of election protection untouched by the Senate version, including a section designed to limit the ability to delay elections.

The legislation only allows for delays due to a “catastrophic event” such as a natural disaster affecting a substantial portion of the state from casting ballots, and would only permit an extension of the election in the affected areas.

“Federal law must make clear that the rules governing an election can’t change after the election has occurred. The Constitution assigns an important duty to state legislatures, to determine the manner in which the states appoint their electors. But this shouldn’t be misread to allow state legislators to change the election rules retroactively to alter the outcome,” Lofgren and Cheney wrote in the op-ed. 

The bill is the first to come from the House committee’s members after they vowed to offer legislation to prevent the actions of Jan. 6 from happening again.

Committee member Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) has urged the panel to go further.

“Donald Trump didn’t set out to overthrow the Electoral Count Act, he set out to overthrow the election. And the election is far broader than just the Electoral Count Act,” Raskin said. 

“We need to develop a comprehensive approach to guaranteeing voting rights and solidifying the electoral apparatus against coups and insurrections, political violence and electoral sabotage in the future,” he added. 

“If all we did was to say that the vice president does not have the authority to nullify Electoral College votes, then we will not have lived up to this moment,” Raskin said. 

Tags capitol breach Capitol insurrection Capitol riot Donald Trump Electoral College Electoral Count Act electoral votes Jan. 6 Capitol riot Jan. 6 hearings Jan. 6 House committee Liz Cheney Zoe Lofgren

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