The Senate is a step closer to safeguarding against the kind of constitutional crisis that was only narrowly avoided during the last presidential transition. The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill reforming the Electoral Count Act, the 1887 election certification law Donald Trump and his allies sought to exploit to overturn Joe Biden‘s victory. Crucially, the new bipartisan legislation on Tuesday also garnered the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellboosting its likelihood of passing the full Senate when it is brought to a vote on the floor.
“The chaos that came to a head on January 6 of last year certainly underscored the need for an update,” McConnell said Tuesday. “It’s clear the country needs a more predictable path.”
The Senate bill, crafted by Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin, was given near-unanimous approval by the Rules Committee. The only exception? Ted Cruz, one of the Republicans who objected to Biden’s victory and sought to undermine it on behalf of Trump. Cruz whined Tuesday that the legislation in question would prevent Congress from addressing “the very serious problem of voter fraud” — which is not, of course, a serious problem, as experts have made clear — and accused Democrats of being preoccupied with the former president . “This bill is all about Donald J. Trump,” Cruz said.
It’s true that the proposed legislation is, in no small part, about Trump. But that’s because the previous president has attempted to employ the difficult-to-parse ECA, as it is currently written, to overturn a free and fair election. The Collins-Manchin reform takes direct aim at two Trump efforts. First, it clearly affirms that the vice president’s role in certifying elections is purely ceremonial; Trump and his allies dele had insisted Mike Pence had the authority to essentially overturn the results. (When he refused to do so January 6, Trump unleashed a MAGA mob, some of called for Pence’s hanging as they stormed the Capitol.) Second, it would protect against efforts by state officials to submit alternate electors for certification; another scheme to undercut the 2020 results involved officials in states like Wisconsin attempting to send fraudulent slates of electors for certification, rather than those reflecting the will of the people. It would also raise the threshold for Congress to consider an objection to electors to a fifth of lawmakers in each chamber (under the current law, two lawmakers are able to hold up the process). The House, which passed a companion bill last week sponsored by Zoe Lofgren and Liz Cheneygoes even farther on this front, requiring a third of lawmakers to lodge an objection.
While ECA reform significantly strengthens the system by which we certify presidential elections, it obviously does not address other threats to the democratic process — including the anti-voting laws that have sprung out of Republican-held state legislatures, with support from the party establishment, on the basis of Trump’s election lessons. And, of course, no law on its own can extinguish the conspiracies Trump stoked among his base ele, which threatens to propel election deniers like Kari Lake into positions of power over the election system. But these reforms would go a long way toward buttressing a democratic process that has been under a difficult stress test for more than two years now. “It’s a critical step to better protect American democracy and remove dangerous ambiguities from our elections,” Senator angus king said after it passed the Rules Committee. “I look forward to it passing the Senate.”