During recent weeks, while President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been building the case for the Freedom to Vote and the John Lewis Voting Rights bills, there’s also been increasing chatter about Republicans finding one election reform they could really get behind: the Electoral Count Act.
There’s been so much chatter about it, in fact, that Politico went out and polled it, finding that 55% of Americans support reforming the law that Trump used to try to overthrow the 2020 election. It should be noted, since we’re talking popular opinion, that the same poll found majority support for every element of the Freedom to Vote Act.
But now that Mitch McConnell has Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in the bag opposing Democrats’ efforts to restore full and free elections, let’s just see how helpful Republicans will be in making this more discrete reform. Let’s see whether the chatter—fed by Republicans to their pet members of the traditional press—about an election reform Republicans will support even continues.
It’s not that the reform isn’t needed, and it’s not that they aren’t good idea. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported this week on one of them, writing that “Senators are close to completing a bill to revise the Electoral Count Act of 1887,” with legislation that would “fix ambiguities in the ECA that Trump directly exploited with his wide-ranging 2020 plot.” He reported that independent Maine Sen. Angus King is spearheading the effort, and that there’s agreement that the law as is stands “is a clear and present threat to democracy.”
The bill is supposed to introduced “in the coming weeks” by King along with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Amy Klobuchar, but not until the push for larger voting rights and elections reforms bills is over. “It’s very important to emphasize that this is not a solution to the voting rights issues being raised across the country,” King told Sargent.
The point of the legislation would be to Trump-proof the electoral count in the Congress—set a higher bar for Trumpers (or, post-Trump, any renegade bunch of members) to attempt to invalidate legitimate electors from states with phony slates. The key thing is to maintain protections in the law to still allow for Congress to invalidate those phony slates if a state legislature or governor tries to overthrow the will of the voters of their state. As it stands, it takes just one representative and one senator to challenge a state’s electors, and just a simple majority to sustain that objection and toss the votes.
This proposed bill would require large blocs of both representatives and senators to offer objections, possibly as much as one-third of each body. It would also require a supermajority—possibly as high as three-fifths—of members in both the House and Senate to support the objection. It’s a good and smart and necessary correction. Some Republicans—even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—might want to actually see it happen. It might get 10 Republicans to break a filibuster. There are a handful—Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi—who’ve been making noises about it.
“I can’t count 10 Republicans right now, but I don’t think it’s unlikely,” King told Sargent. “I see this as more of a bipartisan issue.”
It really only has to be a bipartisan issue, though, if Republicans believe that Manchin and Sinema will help Democrats on the larger reforms. What Republicans have been doing so far, including the supposed bipartisan gang Susan Collins was rumored to be putting together with Manchin and Sinema on it last week, smacked of the usual McConnell bait-and-switch in which he deputizes her to reach out to the usual Democratic suspects and lure them away from taking necessary action with the specter of “bipartisanship.”
Enough straight-line Democrats, as well as Sen. King, have seen the ploy for what it is and insist it can’t be a substitute for protecting voting rights. The larger question now is if it’s even going to still be on the table after Manchin and Sinema waved the white flag to McConnell.