WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s persistent, false claims regarding the 2020 presidential election have sparked renewed urgency in Congress. Both parties are pushing for the amendment of the Electoral Count Act in order to prevent anyone from undoing a future presidential election.
The 135-year-old law, which was created in the wake of the Civil War, is being updated by lawmakers. It came within striking distance of collapse on Jan. 6, 2021. The defeated president called his supporters to “fight like Hell” over the election. Vice President Mike Pence was forced to abandon his ceremonial role as presiding over the session to reject the results.
While Pence did not respond to the president’s demands, Trump insists that the vice president “could overturn the election”. This is a worrying development, as the former president contemplates another White House run.
Sen. Susan Collins, R.-Maine, stated that Trump’s comments highlighted the need to revise Electoral Count Act because they showed the confusion in law and the fact it is ambiguous.
The outcome of the bipartisan effort to pass Congress is still uncertain and could collapse. This is especially because Republicans are wary about Trump crossing and Democrats seek wider changes after their sweeping elections and vote legislation that was dissolvedlast month. A bill updating the law of the 19th century would most likely be blocked by the Senate’s filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass. This means that the legislation will need bipartisan support from the evenly divided chamber.
Despite Trump’s apparent desire to run for another term, the effort to amend the Electoral Count Act is gaining political weight. As the ex-president and his associates have continued to lead a steady drumbeat within state legislatures, working in favor of sympathetic leaders in local elections posts and backing candidates who were involved in the riot at Capitol, the urgency has risen over the last year.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell stated Tuesday that he is open to the effort. He also rejected Trump’s suggestion at a weekend rally to pardon people who were criminally charged in the deadly riot on the Capitol.
McConnell stated that “What we saw here January 6th was an attempt to prevent peaceful transfer of power between one administration and another.”
The Kentucky Republican said that the Electoral Count Act was flawed and needed to be fixed. He added, “I wouldn’t be in favor” of reducing sentences for anyone who pleaded guilty.
Collins is the rare Republican Trump critic who has led a bipartisan group that meets behind closed doors. Collins hopes to present a draft of the bill as soon as possible.
Senators are looking at possible changes to the Electoral Count Act to make it easier to challenge results. They are also looking at ways to help election workers , who are being harassed at alarming levels nationwide,and how to fund election assistance and voting equipment. Republicans and Democrats are both working quickly, with the blessings of party leaders, much like they did last year to create the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into Law.
The Associated Press was told by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) that Trump’s use of the term “overturn” to describe his attempt to challenge the election created a sense “of urgency to get it done.”
While many Democrats, including Kaine feel that the attempt to amend the Electoral Count Act does not replace their failed voting rights packages, it does offer the possibility of a legislative victory, if anything, and a starting point for further discussions.
“Reforming the Electoral College can be a positive thing, but it doesn’t replace need to deal with voting right, dark money, and reapportionment,” stated Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Voting rights advocacy and civil rights groups are pushing Democrats for a wider scope, including the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act. This would restore the Justice Department’s oversight of elections in states that have repeatedly violated voting laws.
This past weekend, the growing urgency to change electoral counts was evident when Trump admitted in his most direct way that he wanted Pence not to reverse the election results.
Republicans who voted against the Democrats’ Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act were too broad and see the value in securing the distinct Electoral Count Act system to stop Trump or anyone else who might challenge it.
“I disagree that Vice President Pence had such authority. But if that’s an argument some people find convincing, then it’s appropriate for Congress to clarify the law,” stated Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The bipartisan group does not operate in a vacuum.
Since the 1876 election, democracy groups have been warning that the Electoral Count Act (which was created after the disputed 1876 elections that saw the South withdraw troops from the South in order to uphold slavery laws) needs updating.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has been working to amend the Electoral Count Act ever since last spring. In the wake of the Capitol riot, he assembled experts and shared ideas with senators from both parties.
On Tuesday, King and Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), shared their draft proposal with Collins’ bipartisan group. They propose clarifying that the vice-president has “no role” when counting votes and shifting the ceremonial role from the vice presidency to a senior senator.
King stated that he hopes the groups will merge their work. Trump’s comments were remarked upon by King, who said that it “underlines why we must get this done.”