House to Vote on Electoral Count Act Reform Bill
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chairwoman of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
By Nick Koutsobinas | Tuesday, 20 September 2022 09:25 PM EDT
The House on Wednesday will vote on a bill introduced by two members of the Jan. 6 panel, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on Monday designed to prevent election interference.
According to The Hill, the legislation, the Presidential Election Reform Act, would reform the long-standing Electoral Count Act of 1887. The measure would clarify that the vice president's role in certifying the election is purely ministerial and "would require one-third of lawmakers in each chamber to back any effort to object to electors."
"I want to make absolutely clear at the outset that what we saw happen in 2020, what Donald Trump tried to convince the vice president to do, was illegal under existing law, and we begin by affirming that," Cheney told reporters Tuesday. "But we need to then take steps to make sure that another Jan. 6 is something that never happens again."
While similar legislation has been introduced by a bipartisan collective of legislators in the Senate, the House bill would include other proactive measures, including limitations on extending elections.
The legislation is seeing pushback among Republicans, however.
"If you look at the bill," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said, "it's got some components, like it allows more lawsuits to drag out elections, to allow trial lawyers to change states' election laws that were debated in their legislatures, which goes against the democratic principles that even the Constitution lays out for how elections should work."
After Scalise's statement, which he offered to reporters on Tuesday, his office began pressing other Republican lawmakers to vote along party lines. In a memo to House GOP offices, Scalise's office wrote that the "flawed" legislation "tramples on State sovereignty and opens the door for destructive private rights of action that will only delay results and inject more uncertainty into our elections."
The measure also outlines constitutional justifications for objecting to electoral votes,
But the bill's sponsors say the Presidential Election Reform Act will clarify that legislators can raise objections to electoral votes only for a narrow set of issues.
In addition, the bill outlines that candidates can obtain a federal court order if a governor fails to transmit the electors' votes to Congress and asserts that presidential elections can be extended if and only if a federal judge rules that the state has undergone a genuine "catastrophic event" otherwise changing the outcome of the race.
Still, other Republicans say they oppose the bill because it was "rushed" into the House.
"The proposal before us has been rushed through in a highly partisan manner," Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ranking member of the House Administration Committee, said Tuesday at a House Rules Committee meeting.
"Why rush such a significant piece of legislation when the next presidential certification won't happen for over two years?" Davis questioned. "It's simple: The midterm elections are just weeks away, and Democrats and the [Jan. 6] committee are desperately trying to talk about their favorite topic, and that is former President Trump."
When Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, was asked about the GOP's push against the bill, he replied, "that's sad."
"If they saw what happened on Jan. 6," Thompson added, "then it's obvious this is not who we are as a country, and so much of it was put forth under the assumption that somehow the vice president could stop the will of the people. And so this legislation just stops that absolutely in its tracks. So I wouldn't see a responsible member of this body not wanting to make sure that something like Jan. 6 never happened again."
The sponsored bill by Lofgren and Cheney comes as the Senate has moved more earnestly on a similar proposal introduced in July that would also tweak the Electoral Count Act. But the key difference is the Senate version is that it would require just a one-fifth vote of support to back objections to electors. The Senate version already has the support of 10 Republicans.
Thompson told reporters Tuesday he thinks the Senate version will garner more support because it was introduced first.
"Ours," he said, "for all intents and purposes, just hit this week, and I think once people get an opportunity to see what our bill encompasses versus the Senate bill, I think you'll see people moving to our side."
Still, the Lofgren-Cheney bill holds one more difference than the Senate bill. It outlines requirements for seeking to declare an election failed, something Cheney says would block possible future abuse by those looking to extend an election.
"We wanted to be very clear and specific about the definition of catastrophic event and wanted to make sure that in the future you couldn't have a situation, for example, where false claims of fraud could be made to allow a state to refuse to certify valid votes," Cheney said.
"We thought it was very important to be clear about both what constituted a catastrophic event, what the impact of such a thing would be, and, yes, to help ensure that we're preventing misuse and abuse of those kinds of claims in future elections," she added.