Collins and Manchin testify about voter count law
Wednesday, the senses. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on the need for voter count law reform.
Last month, a bipartisan group of 16 senators announced agreement on a new bill aimed at clarifying the vague language of the Electoral Count Act, or ECA, which was first passed in 1887.
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 governs the process by which Congress counts electoral votes for president – a process that supporters of former President Donald Trump sought to interrupt during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
As it stands, only one member of the House and one member of the Senate are needed to challenge all voters in a state. In January 2021, House Republicans raised objections to the results in six states, though none of those objections received a majority of support in either house.
The proposed legislation, led by Sen. Collins and Sen. Manchin, would raise that threshold to a requirement of 20% of members in each house in order to challenge all of a state’s voters.
In addition, the bill would remove any questions about the role of the vice president in counting electoral votes. The bill would clarify that the role of the vice president as Congress counts the votes of state voters is merely ceremonial.
It comes after former President Donald Trump told supporters just before the Jan. 6 riot that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election results.
“It has been asserted that the Voter Count Act as it exists would allow the vice president to refuse to accept legally cast electoral votes,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., committee chair. Senate Rules and Administration, on Wednesday morning.
“We know that these assertions about the authority of the vice president are false. But in the proposals we have put forward, Senator King and the bipartisan group make it clear that the vice president does not have that power,” Klobuchar added.
During Wednesday’s hearing, former President Trump took to his Truth Social platform to weigh in on the bill.
“Senators are meeting right now to reform the Vote Count Act so that a vice president can no longer do what EVERYONE except some conservative jurists has said is forbidden. So they all lied,” Trump wrote in his post. “Vice President Could Have Returned Fraudulent Votes to State Legislatures!”
Since the 2020 election, countless legal scholars and analysts have acknowledged that the voter count law has some ambiguities, but as Michael McConell, law professor and director of Stanford University’s Center for Constitutional Law, has told The Associated Press, none of the ambiguities could reasonably be interpreted as giving the vice president the power to unilaterally overturn the results of an election.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Collins called the 1887 law “archaic and ambiguous” and said the Voter Count Act had been “abused, with frivolous objections raised by members of the two parties”, but Collins explained that “it took the violent break-in of the Capitol on January 6, to really shine a light on the urgency of the need for reform.
“The bill we have introduced, the Voter Count Reform and Presidential Transition Enhancement Act, will help ensure that the electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state’s popular vote for president and the vice president,” Collins said in his testimony.
“We have before us a historic opportunity to modernize and strengthen our certification and electoral vote counting for president and vice president,” Collins said. “There is nothing more essential to the orderly transfer of power than clear rules to protect it. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the House to seize this opportunity.
In testimony before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Senator Manchin of West Virginia called on Congress, “The time to reform the ECA is well past,” he said. “Now is the time for Congress to act.”
Manchin said not only is the 1887 law obsolete, “it actually serves as the very mechanism bad actors have focused on to potentially invalidate presidential elections,” he said.
The West Virginia senator acknowledged that he thinks ‘the bill isn’t perfect’ but that it ‘represents many months of hard work and compromise and would be a huge improvement over the ECA current”.
“We were all there on January 6. It happened,” Manchin told the committee. “We have a duty, a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”
Among Wednesday’s witnesses were Bob Bauer, professor of practice and emeritus scholar-in-residence at New York University Law School, John Gore, a former Justice Department official in the Trump administration and partner of Jones Day. , Retired Ambassador Norman Eisen, Derek Muller, Professor of Law at the University of Iowa Law School, and Janai Nelson, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
All the witnesses spoke about the importance of reforming the law on the electoral count.
Former Trump attorney John Gore said “the law contains numerous loopholes and ambiguities that could impede Congress’s ability to accurately count voters in a future presidential election.”
“Reforming the law is necessary and appropriate,” Gore added. “Congress should take the opportunity to safeguard the integrity of our presidential elections now before future disputes arise.”
Bob Bauer of New York University Law School said reform of the 1887 law was “urgent”, in his written testimony. “We shouldn’t risk another round of presidential elections under current law,” he said.
Former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen said the need for reform is “profound”, telling the committee that “ECA reform is essential to prevent a repeat of the chaos we have seen on January 6, 2021 – or worse.”
Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa School of Law, also called attention to the importance of enacting the reforms. “The risks of not enacting the Voter Count Reform Act of 2022 are significant,” he said. “Some have tried to exploit ambiguities over the years, especially in 2020.”
“To leave these in place before the 2024 election is to invite serious mischief,” Muller added.
“Historians will study the period between 2020 and 2025 for decades as they seek to explain the next century of American life,” said Janai Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “They’re going to ask the question, did we act when we had the chance, or did we squander our last best hope to protect the free vote and save our democracy?” The answer to this question lies partly in the actions of this committee.
Nelson used his testimony to draw attention to voter discrimination and voter suppression, calling on Congress to act, “Longstanding voter discrimination escalates along with election sabotage efforts,” she said. “Congress needs to act quickly and explicitly to address the full range.”
During the hearing, witnesses suggested areas the committee should focus on, such as the federal litigation provision and the need for clear rules of procedure for the counting at the joint session.
Even with bipartisan support, it’s still unclear whether the voter count reform law will get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and pass the Senate.