US Senate committee members consider bipartisan changes to voter count law
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and legal experts at a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday stressed the need to pass legislation clarifying an archaic election law so that the peaceful transfer of presidential power is assured.
Law on the reform of the electoral count and the improvement of the presidential transitiona bipartisan bill pushed by 16 senators, was proposed after the former president tried to exploit a law passed in the 19th century in a failed overthrow attempt the 2020 presidential election.
“The will of the American people could have been overthrown,” Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairwoman Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said in her opening statement to the hearing, speaking about the insurgency. January 6.
“Enemies of our democracy have sought to exploit the provisions of this antiquated law to subvert the results of free and fair elections.”
Push to clarify election certification process comes after Trump attempted to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
Current law allows a congressional representative paired with a senator to oppose a state’s electoral votes, which Republicans did.
But the vice president’s role isn’t necessarily clear, which is why Trump tried to pressure Pence not to certify the election, while sending a crowd of pro-Trump supporters to take storm the Capitol. Trump was impeached by the House for the second time for his role in the uprising.
The bill would require 87 members of the House to oppose it, rather than just one, and 20 members of the Senate to oppose it, rather than just one.
Prominent member of the committee, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, said the law needed updating and he was happy to do so in a bipartisan manner.
“Written in a different time, the language of 1887 is really outdated and vague in many ways,” Blunt said. “Both sides of the aisle want to update this law, and a recent poll indicated that almost everyone who thinks about it wants to update this law.”
A Collins-Manchin sign
The first panel consisted of the two senators pushing for the bill, Sens. Susan Collins, Republican from Maine and Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia.
The bill has several Republican co-sponsors, including Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Todd Young of Utah. ‘Indiana, among others.
Collins said it was an archaic and ambiguous law and the new bill has several reforms, including clarifying the role of the vice president when certifying electoral votes.
“The idea that any vice president would have the power to unilaterally accept, reject, change or stop the electoral vote count is contrary to our constitutional structure and fundamental democratic principles,” she said in the statement. his opening speech.
Collins said one of the most important parts of the bill “ensures that Congress can identify a single, conclusive list of voters submitted by each state.”
“Finally, our bill repeals a provision of an outdated 1845 statute that could be used by state legislatures to nullify their state’s popular vote by declaring a ‘failed election’ – a term that is not defined. in this law,” she said. “The bill permits a state to change the period of its election only in ‘extraordinary and catastrophic’ circumstances, and also only as provided by state law enacted before Election Day.”
Manchin added that the bill also “sets a strict deadline for state governors to certify the election results of their respective states – and if they fail to do so or submit a list that does not match the election results of the State, this creates an accelerated procedure”. legal process to resolve.
One of the witnesses, Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa School of Law, said in his opening statement that broad “bipartisan support is essential to address any effort to reform the voter count law. to ensure that future congresses have the confidence to abide by the rules.” .”
Muller said the current bill the senators were working on is “good” and has “impressive clarity.”
“And that’s enough to handle the pressing challenges of the presidential elections, now and in the future,” he said.
He offered senators a some technical improvements to bolster the Voter Count Reform Act of 2022 in his testimony, which senators on the panel agreed with.
Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said he was pleased with the reform bill and said he felt Muller’s technical amendments “significantly improve the bill and clarify some of the misreadings.”
Right to vote
Klobuchar asked one of the witnesses, Janai Nelson, president and director-attorney of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., what additional legislation Congress should consider.
Nelson said that to protect the democratic process, Congress needed to pass two suffrage bills, the John Lewis Act and the Free Suffrage Act.
“The consistency of these ballot measures will restore and bring greater confidence in our electoral system,” Nelson said.
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Nelson added that since a Supreme Court ruling in 2013, voting rights have been removed. The Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement that the Supreme Court canceled covered nine states and a handful of counties and municipalities with a history of discrimination against voters of color.
These states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Some counties included in the preclearance requirement were New York, Florida, North Carolina, California and South Dakota.
Nelson said Congress shouldn’t just strengthen the voter count law.
“Our democracy is currently in crisis because of a deep-seated, irrational and discriminatory fear of the truly inclusive, multi-racial and multi-ethnic democracy that our nation has never been, but our increasingly diverse electorate is keeping the promise to keep” , she said.
“Congress must also fight against electoral discrimination to fulfill its obligation to respond to the insurgency and save our democracy from the present peril.”
The Senate has tried several times since 2020 to pass voting rights legislation, but has been blocked each time by Republicans. A Republican, Murkowski, said she would support Democrats in passing the John Lewis bill.
The Free Voting Act would establish Election Day as a national holiday and set minimum standards every state must have for elections, such as two weeks of early voting and an option for same-day voter registration. .
The John Lewis Bill, named for the Georgia lawmaker and civil rights icon, strengthen the suffrage law establishing a new formula to require all 50 states to obtain special permission from the Department of Justice before making changes to election laws or implementing new voting requirements.