This article appeared in the July 22, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Electoral Count Act: Can reform protect democracy?

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
Staff members hold the certification of Electoral College votes from Tennessee during a joint session of the House and Senate to confirm Electoral College votes at the Capitol, early Jan 7, 2021, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump's relentless, false claims about the 2020 presidential election have sparked fresh urgency in Congress for changing the Electoral Count Act.
Peter Grier
Washington editor

First the bad news: Evidence presented by the Jan. 6 committee has shown how former President Donald Trump and his allies tried to manipulate current laws to disrupt the presidential election process.

Now some good news: There’s a serious effort underway in Congress to fix holes in one crucial statute to try and deter such an attempt from happening again.

At issue is the Electoral Count Act, a rickety antique passed in 1887 that governs the official counting of Electoral College votes and the naming of the president-elect. It’s poorly written and vague in important spots.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators proposed a package of new legislation to modernize the 135-year-old law.

The bills would tighten existing wording to help ensure that each state submits only one conclusive slate of Electoral College electors. No fake slates of self-designated “electors,” as Trump allies produced following the 2020 vote.

They would state that the role of the vice president is “solely ministerial” when counting electoral votes. That would write into direct language the conclusion that many electoral scholars – and former Vice President Mike Pence – have already reached.

The legislation would also make it more difficult for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors – and more difficult for state legislators to override their state’s popular vote.

Some experts don’t agree with everything the package proposes. They worry the fixes might close some holes and open new ones. The Jan. 6 committee has notably said it is considering its own Electoral Count Act reforms.

A compromise might well emerge here. For now, the existing effort is at least a “massive improvement” over the status quo, according to Matthew Seligman, a Yale Law School fellow who’s studied the issue for years.

“I think it’s our last best hope,” he tweeted this week.

This article appeared in the July 22, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/22 edition
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