Baltimore Sun

Senators push to clarify electors law

Bipartisan group OKs certificat­ion, security proposals

- By Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators agreed Wednesday on proposed changes to the Electoral Count Act, the post-Civil War-era law for certifying presidenti­al elections that came under intense scrutiny after the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Long in the making, the package introduced by the group led by Sens. Susan Collins, R- Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is made up of two separate proposals.

One would clarify the way states submit electors and the vice president tallies the votes in Congress. The other would bolster security for state and local election officials who have faced violence and harassment.

“From the beginning, our bipartisan group has shared a vision of drafting legislatio­n to fix the flaws of the archaic and ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887,” Collins, Manchin and 14 other senators said in a joint statement.

“We have developed legislatio­n that establishe­s clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes,” the group wrote. “We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, commonsens­e reforms.”

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell

of Kentucky have signaled support for the bipartisan group, but the final legislativ­e package will undergo careful scrutiny.

Votes are not likely before fall. But with broad support from the group of 16 senators — seven Democrats and nine Republican­s — who have worked behind closed doors for months with the help of outside experts, serious considerat­ion is assured.

In a statement, Matthew Weil, executive director of the Democracy Program at the Bipartisan Policy Center, called the framework a “critical step” in shoring up ambiguitie­s in the act.

After Trump lost the 2020 election, the defeated

president orchestrat­ed an unpreceden­ted attempt to challenge the electors sent from battlegrou­nd states to the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, when the vice president presides over certificat­ion.

A House committee investigat­ing Trump’s efforts has asserted in a series of televised hearings that he incited supporters to attack the Capitol. Another hearing is scheduled for prime-time Thursday.

Under the proposed changes, the law would be updated to ensure the governor from each state is initially responsibl­e for submitting electors, as a way to safeguard against states

sending alternativ­e or fake elector slates.

Additional­ly, the law would spell out that the vice president presides over the joint session in a “solely ministeria­l” capacity, according to a summary page. It says the vice president “does not have any power to solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate disputes over electors.”

That provision is a direct reaction to Trump’s relentless efforts to pressure thenVice President Mike Pence to reject the electors being sent from certain battlegrou­nd states as a way to halt the certificat­ion or tip it away from Joe Biden’s victory.

The bill also specifies the procedures around presidenti­al transition­s, including when the election outcome is disputed, to ensure the peaceful transfer of power from one administra­tion to the next.

That’s another pushback to the way Trump blocked Biden’s team from accessing informatio­n for his transition to the White House.

The second proposal, revolving around election security, would double the federal penalties to up to two years in prison for individual­s who “threaten or intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters or candidates,” according to the summary.

It also would seek to improve the way the U.S. Postal Service handles election mail and “provide guidance to states to improve their mail-in ballot processes.”

Mail-in ballots and the role of the Postal Service came under great scrutiny during the 2020 election.

An Associated Press review of potential cases of voter fraud in six battlegrou­nd states found no evidence of widespread fraud that could change the outcome of the election.

A separate AP review of drop boxes used for mailed ballots also found no significan­t problems.

The need for election worker protection­s was front and center at a separate hearing Wednesday of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Election officials and experts testified that a rise in threats of physical violence is contributi­ng to staffing shortages across the country and a loss of experience at local boards of elections.

“The impact is widespread,” said Neal Kelley, a former registrar of voters in Orange County, California, who now chairs the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections. “And, while the effects on individual­s are devastatin­g, the potential blow to democracy should not be dismissed.”

Some Republican members of the committee condemned violence against election workers — and also drew a parallel to recent threats and intimidati­on directed toward some Supreme Court justices after their decision to overturn constituti­onal protection­s for abortion.

 ?? KATHRYN GAMBLE/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2020 ?? Senators want to amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Above, voters in Iowa.
KATHRYN GAMBLE/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2020 Senators want to amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Above, voters in Iowa.

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