The House is moving fast on new legislation introduced by Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California to prevent stolen presidential elections. The two unveiled their bill Monday after writing a joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal announcing the legislation that was informed by their work on the Jan. 6 committee. Their Presidential Election Reform Act is one of a handful of proposals introduced to reform the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act, but the only one that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports. It could get a vote as soon as Wednesday.
Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill are pissed about it. House Republican leadership is going to whip against it—they’re not going to stand in Trump’s way if he tries this again. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah is one of the members working a long-delayed bipartisan Senate version of the bill, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Act. He’s upset that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t scheduled a vote on their bill, which is set to be considered by the Rules Committee next week. “His delay has now led to a setting where the House is apparently proposing their own bill … and makes it more difficult to actually do something on a bipartisan basis,” he complained Tuesday. “They really should have taken our bill.” How dare the House have the temerity to legislate on their own.
The House bill is stronger than the Senate bill in a few ways, but not in any way that should prevent Senate Republicans, who say they want to fix an old bad law and prevent another Jan. 6, from supporting it.
Both bills make clear that the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes is limited, declaring it “ministerial,” or simply ceremonial and with no power to reject votes. That’s already spelled out in the 12th Amendment, but reiterating it in this statute eliminates any question.
As the law now stands, it takes just one House member and one senator to raise an objection to a state’s election results during the joint session certifying the presidential vote, and the objection has to be considered. The Senate bill raises the threshold to one-fifth of the House and the Senate respectively that have to agree to hear the objection. The House bill makes it even stricter, requiring approval from one-third of each chamber to move forward on an objection.
Cheney and Lofgren explain that they also narrow the grounds for any objections to “to the explicit constitutional requirements for candidate and elector eligibility and the 12th Amendment’s explicit requirements for elector balloting.”
The insurrectionist members of Congress planned to object to the results from a number of swing states in the Jan. 6, 2021 joint session. After the violent storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters interrupted the proceedings when members had to flee, they came back and still objected to the certification from two states, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Both bills would try to shut that down in the future with these limits.
Both bills also address what comes before that congressional certification, setting deadlines for states’ governors to submit the electoral votes from their states. If the governors fail to meet the deadline, or if they send wrong or falsified votes, the candidate harmed can file suit. The House goes one better than the Senate bill, allowing the candidate to get a federal court order to compel a governor to submit the electors if they miss a deadline. If the governor refuses again, then the court can appoint an alternate state official to do the job.
The House is also more specific in addressing the “failed elections” provision in the old law. It says that states can appoint electors after Election Day if an actual count of votes can’t be completed, if the election has “failed.” Trump supporters tried to use that provision by filing scads of lawsuits, apparently in an attempt to slow down certification timelines in states to force a “failed” election. The Senate legislation strikes out that part of the law because it was undefined, but allows for an election extension in a “genuine catastrophic event.”
The House bill specifies that a “catastrophic event” is defined as a natural disaster and a federal judge must approve of the deadline extension. It also limits the extensions to the immediate geographic area that is affected for as short a duration as possible, setting a limit to the extension to five days after Election Day.
The House also did this, an effort to Trump-proof the nation’s future (and arguably rule out any of the members who the Jan. 6 committee or the Justice Department find helped plan the insurrection, and maybe even the 147 members who still voted to overturn the election after the attack).
“Our proposal is intended to preserve the rule of law for all future presidential elections by ensuring that self-interested politicians cannot steal from the people the guarantee that our government derives its power from the consent of the governed,” Lofgren and Cheney wrote in their op-ed. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the House and the Senate toward this goal.”
The Senate is being a little less gracious about it. “I much prefer our bill, which is the product of months of study, input from constitutional and election experts, and is a bill that has garnered widespread bipartisan support,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was put in charge of dragging this bill out with bipartisan games, told The Washington Post. “I believe that we can work this out, and I hope that we both do so.”
Never mind that the House bill is bipartisan (Cheney is still a Republican) and is the result of hours and hours of examination of what actually happened on Jan. 6 and everything that led up to it. And that in that process, the committee members consulted plenty of constitutional and elections experts, too.
The bills aren’t at odds. The House bill is stronger, but there’s nothing in it any senator—even a Republican—should object to, since they all took that oath office to protect the Constitution. It’s just a little sharper about keeping one specific person from ever gaining the highest office in the land again, which most Republican senators in their heart of hearts would like to do.
The House should pass their bill. The Senate can pass its bill—there’s no reason for them not to go to a conference committee and be reconciled and passed. It can happen in the lame-duck session after this midterm election.
Then they need to tackle the larger problem of our elections: protecting voting rights from a Supreme Court that is hostile to them by restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act (and expanding the court!).
Trump and his followers proved on Jan. 6 how dangerously close they came to overturning our democracy. Help cancel Republican voter suppression with the power of your pen by clicking here and signing up to volunteer with Vote Forward, writing personalized letters to targeted voters urging them to exercise their right to vote this year.