Sens. Manchin, Collins Lead Talks on Overhauling Vote Law Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, talks to Sen. Joe Manchin D-W.V.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
David Morgan Thursday, 20 January 2022 04:00 PM
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is discussing a scaled-back law focused on safeguarding election results and protecting election officials from harassment following Democrats' twin defeats on a voting-rights bill.
Lawmakers led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and including conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virgina and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are due to meet virtually on Friday to discuss reform of the 1887 Electoral Count Act, sometimes called the ECA, which allows members of Congress to dispute presidential election results.
Collins, who said her group includes six Democrats, told reporters on Thursday that the aim is "an election reform bill that is truly bipartisan, that would address many of the problems that arose on Jan. 6 and that would help restore confidence in our elections."
"I'm very encouraged by the fact that so many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle have indicated an interest in making sure that votes are properly counted and certified and that means overhauling the 1887 Electoral Count Act, it means looking at additional protections against violence and threats for poll workers and election officials," Collins said, according to The Hill.
"We see what happened in the insurrection," said Manchin, who is leading the Democratic side of the bipartisan effort. "We're going to get a bunch of people together, Democrats and Republicans, and get a good piece of legislation that protects the counting of the vote."
Manchin spoke a day after he and Sinema voted with all 50 Senate Republicans, blocking an attempt by their fellow Democrats to overturn the Senate's 60-vote threshold for most legislation and pass sweeping voting rights legislation with a simple majority.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riot, former President Donald Trump's continued claims of a rigged election and a wave of new voting laws in Republican-led states have raised concerns among Democrats about the integrity of the U.S. election system.
Manchin said he wants threatening or accosting an election official to be a federal crime.
Collins provided no timeline for producing a bill and said the group has many issues to resolve up front. But she added that their model is the bipartisan talks that produced last year's $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Some of the changes being discussed include clarifying the vice president's role and changing the number of lawmakers needed to object before the House and Senate must vote on a challenge to a slate of electors from a state, according to The Hill.
The group is also considering proposals to protect elected officials from harassment and unwarranted removal from office, address election security and improve election management, according to a person familiar with the matter.
After the Democratic voting-rights effort failed on Wednesday, senators said there could be scope to meet the 60-vote threshold with more limited legislation aimed at curbing congressional intervention in presidential elections through ECA reform.
"The people who tried to overturn the last election focused on using that act in a way that would have subverted the will of the people. And so there's interest in clarifying the act," Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a member of the Collins group, told reporters.
Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is separately preparing to introduce ECA reform legislation that would curb the role of Congress and place responsibility for resolving disputes and challenges with states, according to an aide. His group includes Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., The Hill reported.
Time is running short for lawmakers to act. Campaigning is already under way ahead of the Nov. 8 elections when Republicans are favored to regain a majority in at least one chamber of Congress, and the first nominating contests take place in Texas on March 1.
The White House welcomed the efforts but made clear it did not regard ECA reform as a substitute for broad voting-rights legislation.
"Certainly, the president is open to engaging with, talking with, as we are, even though it's not a substitute, Republicans and others who are interested in moving forward," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.
Lawmakers believe there is bipartisan support in Congress for such initiatives.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., has said that ECA reform is worth discussing in comments that Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., later dismissed.
"I think it needs fixing," McConnell said on Thursday. "We ought to be able to figure out a bipartisan way to fix it."
Newsmax staffer Jack Gournell contributed.