A voter at a ballot maker machine. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House passed on Wednesday a bill updating a 19th-century law in an attempt to prevent the subversion of future presidential elections.
The Presidential Election Reform Act, which passed 229-203, is meant to deter a repeat of the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, in which the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a mob of pro-Trump supporters trying to stop Congress from certifying the presidential electoral votes.
Nine House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure, H.R. 8873, which would revamp the Electoral Count Act.
“If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill,” Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said on the House floor.
“If instead your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to support this or any other bill to address the electoral count.”
Cheney, along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Sunday that the bill “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.”
“This bill will make it harder to convince people that they have the right to overthrow the election,” Lofgren said on the House floor.
Those two lawmakers are also part of the House special committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The bill raises the threshold for an objection made by any U.S. senator and representative to a state’s electoral vote from one member of each chamber to one-third of each chamber, a big increase.
The bill also makes it clear that the vice president’s role is purely ceremonial in certifying electoral votes.
A majority of Republicans pushed back against the bill, with Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois labeling it partisan and Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin calling the process rushed.
Davis said that Democrats were perpetuating a false narrative that Republicans are election deniers and want to overturn elections.
Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, said Congress needed to pass the bill in order to prevent another Jan. 6.
“We cannot let violence undermine over 200 years of a peaceful transfer of power in this country,” she said.
Steil said that Americans have lost faith in their election system, and the bill does not do anything to quell those fears.
“Will the bill before us boost people’s confidence in our elections process?” he asked. “The bill fails the test.”
The House Rules Committee held a Tuesday hearing and voted 9-3 to send the legislation to the House floor.
All Democrats in that committee voted for the bill, and all the Republicans who voted opposed it.
The top Republican on the Rules panel, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, voted against the bill along with Michael Burgess of Texas and Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota did not vote.
The push to clarify the election certification process comes after former President Donald Trump tried to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
The Jan. 6 insurrection, spurred by Trump, shortly followed. Four people who were part of the mob died, and five police officers responding to the insurrection also died in the days and weeks following.
Current law allows a congressional representative paired with a senator to object to a state’s electoral votes, which Republicans did. But they were interrupted from their objections when the mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
Because the vice president’s role in the certification of electoral votes isn’t exactly clear, Trump tried to pressure Pence to not certify the election.
Trump was impeached by the House for a second time for his role in the insurrection.
The future of the House measure is unclear because the Senate is working on its own legislation.
The Senate held an August hearing where Sens. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, argued for the need to update the 1887 electoral law.
The senators said the current law is archaic and ambiguous, and that their bill had several reforms, including a clarification on the role of the vice president when certifying electoral votes.
Collins announced on Wednesday she had 10 Democratic and 10 Republican co-sponsors for the bill, meaning its passage could reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance past a filibuster in the Senate.
“Our bill is backed by election law experts and organizations across the ideological spectrum,” Collins said in a statement. “We will keep working to increase bipartisan support for our legislation that would correct the flaws in this archaic and ambiguous law.”
Those 10 Senate Democrats include Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Alex Padilla of California.
The 10 Senate Republicans include Collins, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
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