- A bipartisan Senate group has agreed on legislation that would shore up the 2024 election.
- Their bill would give a 21st-century update to 19th-century law governing the counting of electoral votes.
- Trump's efforts to overturn the election brought those obscure laws into clear focus.
A bipartisan group of senators is ready to release a bill to shore up the 2024 presidential election against the kind of attacks President Donald Trump waged on the system in his bid to overturn his 2020 election loss, senators told Politico and CNN.
The bipartisan group, led by GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, began talks in January on an election reform bill mainly focused on giving a 21st-century upgrade to the Electoral Count of 1887, the once-obscure 19th-century law governing the process of counting Electoral College votes in a joint session of Congress.
The law came into focus after the siege on the Capitol during the joint session to count electoral votes on January 6, 2021. Trump and legal scholar John Eastman pressured Vice President Mike Pence to disregard the ECA and unilaterally reject slates of electors for President Joe Biden. Pence refused.
"We've been working for months on this issue and have really done a deep dive into the problems and ambiguities that exist in this 1887 law," Collins told Politico. "My hope is that we will wrap up our work shortly … I suspect we will introduce a bill within the coming days."
The bill, senators told Politico, clarifies that the vice president's role in overseeing the counting of electoral votes is solely ministerial and ceremonial.
It will also raise the threshold for members of Congress to bring an objection to a state's slate of electors beyond one House member and one senator, clear up the definition of a "failed election" in federal law, prevent fake and phony slates of electors to Congress, and call on the US Postal Service to come up with standards and practices for handling mail-in ballots, according to Politico.
The Senate group's efforts are separate from the ongoing House select committee investigation into January 6, which is expected to release a report in the fall detailing its findings and its own recommendations for improving the ECA and shoring up American democracy more broadly.
"What we do is a House-driven product and some of it will require cooperation and coordination with the Senate," Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the panel's chairman, told Insider. 'There'll be a series of recommendations of which the electoral count would obviously be one of those things we would look at."
Whatever proposal the Senate group releases may face an uphill battle to get 60 votes in the upper chamber, which is set to go on recess in August and is currently preoccupied with other priorities including passing a semiconductor-focused bill aimed at bolstering US competitiveness against China, judicial nominations, and possibly a slimmed-down economic reconciliation bill.
It would then also have to pass the House. Many congressional Democrats, especially progressives, have been skeptical of any legislation that only addresses the Electoral Count Act without more broadly securing voting rights protections.
"I think it's important. I don't think it fixes the problems of January 6. But I think it's important to do," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a leading House progressive, told Insider on Thursday afternoon. "Let's see what the deal says. Let's see if it helps us to resolve some of these questions. But at the end of the day, we have to bring accountability for January 6."
"Yes, ECA is the law that governs the January 6 meeting of Congress. And there were loopholes that were exploited to make fallacious arguments by Donald Trump. Those loopholes need to be closed," Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics chief and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Insider. "But the conspiracy was much broader than January 6."
Eisen cited over 200 bills based on denial passed "from coast to coast" in 2021.
"We need to look at this as a systemic problem with systemic answers, and I hope we'll get a strong ECA plus set of remedies," Eisen added.