The US Congress on Friday gave final approval to legislation amending the Electoral Count Act, a secretive law governing the certification of a presidential election.
The legislation marks the largest effort yet to avoid a repeat of former US President Donald Trump’s violent attempts to reverse his loss in the 2020 election.
The House passed the revision of the law as part of the comprehensive year-end spending bill after the Senate approved identical wording on Thursday. The legislation now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
In a statement Friday, Biden praised the inclusion of the legislation in the spending bill, calling it “critical bipartisan action that will help ensure that the will of the people is preserved.”
It’s the most significant legislative response the U.S. Congress has made to date to address Trump’s aggressive efforts to disrupt popular vote. And it was a move spurred by a select committee in the US House of Representatives charged with investigating the events of January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.
In its more than 800-page report released Thursday, the House committee documented internal discussions at the White House between Trump and his advisers over whether or not he violated provisions of the Electoral Count Act by refusing to count certain electoral votes. .
Friday’s legislation amending the 1887 Act – long criticized as poorly and confusingly written – received bipartisan support. The new provisions would make it more difficult for would-be presidential losers to avoid the ascension of their enemies, as Trump attempted to do on January 6, 2021.
“It’s a monumental achievement, especially in this partisan atmosphere, for such a sweeping rewrite of a law so critical to our democracy,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This law is a big step toward closing the avenues Trump and his allies tried to use in 2020, and could have been exploited in future elections.”
On January 6, Trump focused on Congressional ratification of the Electoral College vote. He tried to exploit the vice president’s role in reading to voters of the states to get Mike Pence to stop Biden from becoming the next president by omitting some of the states that Biden won from the roll .
The new provisions make it clear that the vice president’s responsibilities in the process are purely ceremonial and that the vice president has no say in who actually won the election.
The new legislation also raises the threshold for members of Congress to object to voter certification. Previously, only one member of the House and Senate, respectively, had to object to forcing a roll call vote from a state’s voters.
That helped turn objections to new presidents into something of a routine partisan tactic, with Democrats objecting to the certification of George W. Bush’s two elections and Trump’s in 2016.
Those objections, however, were mostly symbolic and came after the Democrats admitted that the Republican candidates had won the presidency.
On January 6, 2021, Republicans forced a vote to certify Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania even after the violent attack on the Capitol as Trump continued to falsely maintain that he had won the election. That led some members of Congress to worry that the process could be too easily manipulated.
Under the new rules, one-fifth of each chamber would be needed to force a vote on the states’ electoral rolls.
The new provisions also ensure that only one electoral roll makes it to Congress after Trump and his allies unsuccessfully attempted to create alternate electoral rolls in the states won by Biden.
Every governor would now have to sign voters, and Congress can’t account for slates filed by different officials. The bill creates a legal process if one of those voters is challenged by a presidential candidate.
The legislation would also close a loophole that was not used in 2020 but that election experts feared: a provision that state legislators can nominate voters in defiance of their state’s popular vote in the event of a “botched” election.
That term is taken to mean a match that was disrupted or so doubtful that there was no way to determine the actual winner. But it is not well defined in the earlier law.
Now a state could move the date of its presidential election, but only in the event of “extraordinary and catastrophic events,” such as a natural disaster.
Hasen said that while the changes are significant, there are still dangers to democracy, noting that in Arizona, the Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, was awaiting a ruling on Friday in a lawsuit she filed to challenge her victory. Democratic opponent, Katie. Hobbs.
“Nobody should think that passing this legislation means we’re out of the woods,” Hasen said. “This is not one and done.”