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Electoral College

An aide opens Electoral College ballot boxes during a joint session of Congress to tally ballots for the president and vice president of the United States, January 6, 2016. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Electoral Count Reform Hailed as 'Essential First Step' Toward Safeguarding US Democracy

While praising the proposal, one democracy defender also emphasized that "this bill is no substitute for comprehensive voting rights legislation."

Brett Wilkins

Democracy advocates on Wednesday welcomed as important progress the introduction of legislation to reform and modernize the Electoral Count Act, a 19th-century law that former President Donald Trump attempted to invoke in his failed attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. 

"January 6 was a warning, and one that cannot be ignored. Failure to act is not an option and imperils the country's future."

"Modernizing the century-old Electoral Count Act is an essential first step toward meaningfully protecting our democracy from future attempts to overthrow the will of voters," Christina Harvey, executive director of the advocacy group Stand Up America, said in a statement. "This bipartisan effort would help safeguard against bad actors in Congress and state legislatures who would seek to sabotage our elections, and it further clarifies the vice president's solely ceremonial role in the electoral vote count."

"The Senate Republican Caucus should follow the lead of the nine Republican co-sponsors and negotiators of the ECA fix and work with Democrats to swiftly pass this legislation," Harvey added.

The new bill follows months of negotiations led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). With nine Republicans currently supporting the proposed legislation in the upper chamber, it needs the backing of just one more GOP senator to meet the 60-vote passage threshold.

According to The New York Times:

The legislation aims to guarantee a peaceful transition from one president to the next, after the January 6 attack on the Capitol demonstrated how the current law could be manipulated to disrupt the process. One measure would make it more difficult for lawmakers to challenge a state's electoral votes when Congress meets to make its official count. It would also clarify that the vice president has no discretion over the results and set out the steps to begin a presidential transition. A second bill would increase penalties for threats and intimidation of election officials and encourage steps to improve the handling of mail-in ballots by the Postal Service.

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn urged senators to "carefully vet the proposal introduced by a bipartisan group of senators today."

"Americans deserve to know their votes will be counted and their voices heard in our elections. Reform of the antiquated Electoral Count Act is an important step to safeguard the results of free and fair elections," she asserted, adding that then-President Donald Trump and his associates "came exceptionally close to engineering an overthrow of the 2020 election, as the January 6th select committee's hearings have made clear."

"They did so in part by making bogus assertions about how the Congress should discharge its certification duties of the presidential election, inciting a violent mob, and convincing 147 Congressional Republicans to vote to overturn the election," Hobert Flynn added. "Part of this plot included testing arcane provisions of the law that must be modernized and clarified before it happens again."

She continued:

Reform of the Electoral Count Act—as important and necessary as it is—does not fully address the threats to an inclusive and representative democracy, including the wave of racially discriminatory voting laws that have been introduced throughout the country, and this bill is no substitute for comprehensive voting rights legislation. Congress must also pass legislation to secure every American's freedom to vote—including legislation to repair and strengthen the Voting Rights Act and to set fair national election administration standards.

"January 6 was a warning, and one that cannot be ignored. Failure to act is not an option and imperils the country's future," Hobert Flynn stressed. "We learned from Trump that the peaceful transfer of power from a candidate who loses an election can never again be taken for granted. Congress must move to guarantee that in America the voters—and only the voters—decide the outcome of our elections."

Other democracy defenders had another idea for electoral reform. MainStreet Law founder Tristan Snell tweeted: "While we're updating the Electoral Count Act, how about we update the Electoral College—by abolishing it?"


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