In a rare instance of bipartisan accord, a group of 16 Democratic and Republican senators recently reached a deal on legislation that aims to make it harder to overturn a presidential election. It represents the most consequential move in Congress to address former President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat — although its passage is far from guaranteed in a Senate that is split 50-50, along party lines.
The agreement seeks to overhaul the archaic 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act that Trump tried to exploit last year by demanding that then-Vice President Mike Pence reject the electoral votes in several states that Trump had lost to Joe Biden.
The proposal, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would make clear that a vice president’s role in counting those votes is merely ceremonial. And it would make it harder for members of Congress to object to a state’s presidential results by requiring that one-fifth of the House and Senate mount objections — rather than just one House member and one senator.
The bill, backed by nine Republicans and seven Democrats, also identifies state governors, unless otherwise specified in the state law or constitution in effect on Election Day, as the officials responsible for certifying presidential electors. That’s an effort to thwart moves by partisan actors to put forward alternate slates of electors if they don’t like the election results, and it eliminates the opening for Congress to choose among competing slates.
(As you’ll recall, Trump’s allies convened false electors in several key states as part of an effort to subvert the Electoral College.)
A separate Senate bill, backed by five Republicans and seven Democrats, tries to combat ongoing threats to election administration by increasing federal penalties for anyone who threatens or intimidates election officials or tampers with voting systems.
A group of five election law professors recently hailed the proposed Electoral Count Act rewrite as a “major improvement” on the antiquated law.
But a coalition of leading civil rights groups issued a statement over the weekend, arguing the proposal “is not enough to protect our democracy in this fragile moment.”
They want Congress to confront what they call “increasing racial discrimination in voting,” following court rulings that have eroded the power of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Repeated efforts by Senate Democrats to go bigger on voting, however, have failed in the face of Republican opposition and the reluctance of moderate Democrats to change Senate filibuster rules.)
Additionally, the Senate version is unlikely to be the final word.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican who serves as vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, and California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat on the panel, say the committee will have its own recommendations on shoring up the Electoral Count Act.
Will election deniers gain ground in more states?
Next week kicks off a new round of primary elections across the country, and upcoming editions of the CITIZEN newsletter will offer guides by CNN’s campaign team of the key races to watch each week.
Perhaps the biggest test of whether election denial has firmly taken root among the Republican faithful will come in Arizona’s August 2 primary.
Trump has endorsed several candidates in the Grand Canyon State who have embraced his baseless claims that widespread election fraud led to his 2020 defeat, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, secretary of state contender Mark Finchem and venture capitalist Blake Masters, who is vying to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the general election.
(As CNN’s Alex Rogers recently reported, Masters has even begun to question whether the 2022 election will be legitimate as he works to shore up his bona fides among Trump supporters.)
And Karrin Taylor Robson, the Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate endorsed by Pence, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar this week that she does not believe the 2020 election was fair to Trump and would not she say that she accepts the 2020 results.
At the local level in Arizona, meanwhile, a four-way race for a seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors includes candidates who have advanced election conspiracy theories.
One, Republican Thayer Verschoor, a former state senator who served in Trump’s administration, says on his campaign website that the 2020 election “was corrupt and a win was stolen” from the former President.
The Arizona Republic’s Sasha Hupka recently noted that the outcome of this contest in Arizona’s most populous county — home to Phoenix — could change the united front that the board in Maricopa has steadfastly presented in defending the integrity of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
(Election conspiracies about the 2020 election sparked Republicans in the state Senate to order a sprawling probe of Maricopa’s ballots. It became the butt of national jokes last year as the reviewers pursued wild conspiracy theories, such as hunting for signs of bamboo, based on a claim that 40,000 ballots had arrived from Asia. In the end, the recount concluded that Biden had actually won the county by a bigger margin than the official tally.)
Biden captured Arizona by nearly 10,500 votes of out of more than 3 million cast statewide.
Whoever wins the Maricopa seat will serve until January 2025 and help oversee the 2024 presidential election in the county.
You need to read
- These stories in Reuters and The New York Times about new moves by conservative sheriffs’ organizations to investigate the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump. As Reuters notes, election officials fear that partisan probes into baseless allegations of election fraud will undermine public confidence in elections.
- CNN’s story on the busy month ahead of fact-finding and decision-making for the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Cheney, the No. 2 lawmaker on the panel, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” over the weekend that the committee could “contemplate a subpoena” for Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
- This story by CNN’s Eric Bradner on how the GOP gubernatorial primary in Arizona has turned into a proxy war between Trump and his former vice president.