By Mimi Nguyen Ly
A measure that would reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and make it harder for members of Congress to object to or decertify presidential election results has advanced in the Senate, after Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled support for the bill.
Members on the Senate Rules Committee on Sept. 27 voted 14–1 to approve and send the bill (pdf), titled the “Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022,” to the Senate floor. The bill was written by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
McConnell was among the 14 senators who signaled his support for the Senate bill on Sept. 27.
“I’ll proudly support the legislation provided that nothing more than practical changes are made to its current form,” McConnell said in remarks to the Senate. He added that the bill as introduced “is the only chance to get an outcome and to actually make law.”
“Congress’s process for counting the presidential electors’ votes was written 135 years ago,” he said. “The chaos that came to a head on January 6th of last year certainly underscored the need for an update. So did Januaries 2001, 2005, and 2017; in each of which, Democrats tried to challenge the lawful election of a Republican president.”
The lone senator on the Senate Rules Committee who voted no was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz was one of two senators—the other was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)—who had objected to President Joe Biden’s certification in the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.
“This bill is a bad bill. … It’s bad policy and it’s bad for democracy. There are serious constitutional questions in the bill,” Cruz said in the Senate. “The text of the Constitution, Article Two says, ‘Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.’ This bill is Congress trying to intrude on the authority of the state legislatures to do that. But it’s also exceptionally bad policy.”
“We know that Democrats aren’t opposed to objecting to elections and presidential electors. We know that because Democrats objected in 1969. And then they objected again in 2001. Then they objected again in 2005. And then they objected again in 2017. So Democrats have a long history of going up and objecting to electors,” he said.
The bill “takes a significant step down that road of putting the federal government in charge of elections,” Cruz noted, adding, “I don’t believe senators from this side of the aisle should be supporting a bill that enhances the federalization of elections and reduces the ability of Congress to respond to the very serious problem of voter fraud. I think this bill does that, and so I intend to oppose it.”
Among multiple provisions, the Senate bill would clarify that the vice president has no discretionary powers and only has a ministerial role in the vote counting and certification process. It would also require one-fifth of the House and the Senate to agree to challenge a state’s results; current law allows objections to proceed with the support of just one lawmaker from each chamber.
A vote over the Senate bill is expected on the Senate floor after the midterm elections in November. At least 12 Republicans have signaled support for the bill, which means it can break a filibuster in the 50–50 Senate.
Similar legislation passed the House on Sept. 21 with a vote of 229–203; nine Republicans joined 221 Democrats in supporting the House bill, which was introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
The House version of the bill would require one-third of the members of the House and Senate to agree to challenge a state’s certification. It also presents new grounds for objections, while the Senate does not.
If the bill passes the Senate, lawmakers would need to harmonize the Senate and House versions of the bill before a final version can be sent to Biden for his signature. This would include the language around challenging a state’s certification.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.