WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, July 20, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Act (“ECA Reform Act”), which reforms the Electoral Count Act of 1877 (ECA). Arising out of the disputed presidential election results of 1876, the ECA outlines Congress’ role in election certification. After every presidential election, Congress meets in a joint session on Jan. 6 of the following year to count the presidential electoral votes — a routine procedure in past years that earned more attention in 2021.
The ECA Reform Act clarifies that the vice president’s role in these proceedings is purely ceremonial and raises the threshold for members of Congress to initiate objections to results. (Currently, only one senator and one representative are necessary to suspend the joint session and take a vote on an objection to a state’s electoral results. By raising the threshold to one-fifth of the members of each chamber, the goal is to reduce frivolous objections.) The bill also aims to ensure that there is one conclusive slate of electors from each state by clarifying unclear language from the original 19th century bill. Particularly striking, the bill outlines a process for expedited judicial review (meaning, how election certification issues are resolved in the courts) for the defeated presidential candidate through a three-judge federal panel with direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Presidential Transition portion of the bill provides guidelines for how federal resources can be used by the president or vice president during the transfer of power.
After Senate Republicans blocked important voting rights legislation in January, the focus switched to tinkering with the ECA. Eight other Republicans have co-sponsored the new bill: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Notably, if all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats and all nine Republicans support the bill, it is still one vote short of overcoming the filibuster.
A second bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, was also introduced, with only five Republicans co-sponsors. This bill increases penalties for intimidating election officials and voters, provides guidance for the U.S. Postal Service to better process election mail, protects election records and reauthorizes the Election Assistance Commission.