The central idea behind the House and Senate bills to reform a mysterious federal election law is simple: Congress should not decide presidential elections.
The bills are a direct response to the January 6 insurrection and former President Trump’s efforts to circumvent the Electoral Count Act, a 19th-century law that governs, along with the U.S. Constitution, how states and the Congress certify voters and declare presidential elections. election winners. The House is voting on its version of the legislation on Wednesday and a Senate committee will consider its bipartisan bill next week.
While the House bill is more expansive, the two bills would make similar changes, all aimed at ensuring that each state’s popular vote is protected from manipulation by bad actors or supporters who want to overturn the will of voters.
House Stewardship Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren of California, a lead sponsor of the House bill, says people who wanted to overturn the 2020 election took advantage of the ambiguous language “to get Congress to play a role that they really want.” should not play.”
Supporters in both houses — Democrats and some Republicans — want to pass a review before the start of the next Congress and before the 2024 presidential campaign cycle, as Trump has signaled he may run again. Ten GOP senators supported the legislation, likely giving Democrats the votes needed to break an obstruction and pass their Senate election bill 50-50.
Here’s what the two bills would do:
CLARIFY THE ROLE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT
Lawmakers and legal experts have long said the 1887 law is vague and vulnerable to abuse, and Democrats have seen Trump’s efforts to reverse his defeat before January 6, 2021, as the final straw. Supporters of the former president stormed the Capitol that day, echoing his false allegations of widespread voter fraud, disrupting Congress’s certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, and calling for the death of Vice President Mike Pence because he would not try to stop Biden from becoming president.
Both the House and Senate bills would clarify that the vice president’s role in presiding over Congressional certification each January 6 after a presidential election is “ministerial” and that he or she has no power to determine the election results. — an effort to make that point emphatically in the law after Trump and some of his allies pressured Pence en masse. He resisted these pleas, but many lawmakers were concerned that the law was not clear enough on this point.
The Senate bill states that the vice president “will have no power to determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes over the proper list of voters, the validity of voters, or the votes of voters.” The House bill has similar language and adds that the vice president “shall not order any delay in counting or preside over any period of delay in counting electoral votes.”
MORE DIFFICULT TO OBJECT
The two bills would also make it more difficult for lawmakers to oppose a particular state’s electoral votes. Under current law, only one member of the Senate and one member of the House need to file an objection to automatically trigger votes in both chambers on voiding or discarding a state’s presidential election results. Both bills would significantly increase this threshold, with the House bill requiring one-third of each chamber to oppose and the Senate bill requiring one-fifth of each chamber to oppose.
The House bill goes even further, specifying very narrow grounds for objections, such as whether certain voters are ineligible under the law or whether a state has submitted too many votes.
Norm Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a legal expert who consulted with lawmakers who drafted the legislation, said the House bill sets stricter parameters around “opportunities for mischief” by lawmakers who may be taking sides.
NO FALSE VOTES
Both bills would guarantee the existence of a “single and conclusive slate of voters,” as the senators say, a response to unsuccessful efforts by Trump allies to create alternative and illegitimate slates of Trump voters in states that Biden narrowly won. in 2020.
Each state’s governor would be required to present voters, who are sent under a formal process to Congress and opened in the rostrum during the Congressional session on January 6, after each presidential election. The House and Senate bills would also establish legal processes if any of those voters are challenged by a presidential candidate.
The House and Senate legislation would also revise language in the current law that went unchallenged during the 2020 election but that lawmakers feel could be vulnerable to abuse. The law now allows state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states by calling a “failed election,” but the term is not defined by the law.
The Senate bill says a state can only change its presidential election day if there are “extraordinary and catastrophic” events that require it to happen. House lawmakers and legal experts like Eisen have argued that the Senate’s language is still too vague, and the House bill would only allow such a delay if a federal judge agreed that there had been a genuine catastrophic event affecting enough ballots.
The House bill would also limit such a change to the affected geographic area and require the extension to last no more than five days after election day.
The House bill would add language to try to prohibit state or local officials from refusing to count valid votes in a presidential election or refusing to certify a legitimate election — an attempt to allay fears by some lawmakers that the next presidential candidate will follow Trump’s lead and try to pressure lower-level officials to overturn the results. Presidential candidates can go to court to force such a count.
The Senate bill does not have that language.