A bipartisan group of senators led by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) unveiled long-awaited bipartisan legislation Wednesday to overhaul “archaic and ambiguous” election laws after former President Donald Trump’s legal team attempted to exploit unclear language in an 1887 law to keep him in power after the 2020 election.
One of the bills, called the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, clarifies that the role of the vice president in certifying election results is “solely ministerial,” with no authority to “solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate” the outcome.
The bill deletes language that’s been on the books since 1845, which appeared to give state legislatures the ability to override the results of the popular vote, and raises the threshold for Congress to object to a state’s electors, requiring the support of at least one fifth of the House and Senate to “reduce the likelihood of frivolous objections.”
It also contains a measure called the Presidential Transition Improvement Act to allow multiple candidates to “receive transition resources during a period of time when the outcome of an election is reasonably in doubt,” but clarifies that only one candidate can access those resources when the result becomes clear.
The second bill, called the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, doubles the potential jail time for intimidating election officials, voters or candidates from one to two years.
The legislation also proposes raising the maximum penalty for tampering with election records from $1,000 to $10,000, among other changes.
What To Watch For
The bills are expected to pass through both chambers of Congress. Nine Republican senators were part of the 16-member working group that came up with the legislation, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed support for the negotiations. Ten Republican votes are needed in the Senate to overcome the filibuster.
“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,” the group of senators, led by Manchin and Collins, said in a joint statement. The act and its obscure language loomed over legal strategies the Trump team, especially right-wing scholar John Eastman, pursued after the 2020 election.
Though legal experts widely believed Trump’s attempts to overturn the election weren’t lawful, many noted the effort exposed serious flaws in the antiquated guidelines the U.S. has long used to certify its election results. Two of Trump’s top strategies for staying in office involved getting then Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the results on January 6 and pressuring multiple state legislatures to nullify President Joe Biden’s win. Both efforts were addressed in the bills and have also been the subject of multiple January 6 commission hearings over the past several weeks.